Debate: Candidates spar over misstatements

April 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Wednesday's Democratic debate in Philadelphia comes just six days ahead of the Pennsylvania primary, a contest Senator Hillary Clinton really needs to win.

There was a lot of attention at the debate, not on the big issues, but on the big controversies that have plagued both campaigns. The issues took a back seat to the misstatements of the candidates.

First up was Senator Barack Obama trying to explain what he meant at a San Francisco fundraiser when he called Pennsylvanians bitter and clinging to guns and religion.

"When they are promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change and it doesn't, then politically, they end up focusing on those things that are constant, like religion. They end up feeling this is a place where I can find some refuge," said Obama.

But Obama wasn't going to find refuge with that answer.

"I don't believe that my grandfather or my father or the many people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting across Pennsylvania over many years, cling to religion when Washington isn't listening to them," said Clinton.

Clinton pounded on Obama for his comments and for the comments made by his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

"For Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would've been just intolerable for me," said Clinton.

When the question was asked about Clinton's own gaffe, describing how she dodged Bosnian sniper fire that never happened, she said she was sorry.

"I'm embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I've said it was a mistake," said Clinton.

On Iraq, both Obama and Clinton said they would begin pulling troops out even if the generals said it would reverse the gains that have been made.

"It is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer," said Obama.

"I believe that it will be only through our commitment to withdraw that the Iraqis will begin to do what they have failed to do for all of these years," said Clinton.

On the economy and taxes, both sounded very much the same.

"I am absolutely committed to not raising a single tax on middle class Americans, people making less than $250,000 dollars a year," said Clinton.

"I have not only pledged not to raise their taxes, I've been the first candidate in this race to specifically say I would cut their taxes," said Obama.

James Taylor, an associate professor of political science at the University of San Francisco, says Clinton tried to go after Obama, but it's a tactic that carries a price.

"In fact, the more she tried to raise Barack Obama's negatives, the more hers have increased and this is apparently a problem. But when she's speaking to the issues she does very well," said Professor Taylor.

Professor Taylor says both candidates did well when they stuck to the issues.

"I was sort of disappointed that we spent in the debate 45 minutes going over all these gaffes and problems and so forth, but then when we got to the substance I sort of went, well, the trouble is there's just not that much difference between them," said U.C. Berkeley political scientist Henry Brady.

Both Professor Brady and Professor Taylor say Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought to a draw. A point worth noting, both Clinton and Obama said they would campaign for whoever gets the nomination.


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