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Obama and Clinton Take the Gloves Off In AFL-CIO Debate

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, far left, stands on stage with seven of the eight Democratic presidential candidates before a debate held by the AFL-CIO at Soldier Field in Chicago. Next to Sweeney, from left, are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), former senator John Edwards (N.C.), and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio). (By Charles Rex Arbogast -- Associated Press)

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Offered the chance to respond, Clinton turned the issue around. "You know, I've noticed in the last few days that a lot of the other campaigns have been using my name a lot. But I'm here because I think we need to change America. And it's not to get in fights with Democrats. I want the Democrats to win. And I want a united Democratic Party that will stand against the Republicans."

Her concluding comment, "I'm your girl," drew applause, and a grin from the candidate.

The subject of lobbyists' contributions then sat for much of the rest of the debate until the final minutes, when the issue came up again. Edwards and Obama do not take such contributions, and Clinton was asked about why she does.

Clinton said she has fought against special interests for many years, from insurance and drug companies on health care to banks on the issue of bankruptcy. "My record on standing up and fighting for people really speaks for itself," she said.

Union officials had hoped that the debate would focus largely on labor issues, but with Olbermann at the helm, the questions ranged widely. The opening question was about last week's bridge collapse in Minnesota and the nation's infrastructure. Trade and NAFTA brought predictable answers from the candidates with few specific commitments.

The most emotional moment came when retired worker Steve Skvara choked back tears as he told the candidates of his forced disability retirement from LTV Steel. He later lost a third of his pension and now cannot afford health insurance for himself and his wife. "What's wrong with America, and what will you do to change it?" Skvara asked.

Edwards talked briefly about pension reform and health care but quickly moved to broader topics.

Former senator Mike Gravel (Alaska), the eighth Democrat running for president, was not included in the debate because he did not complete a candidate questionnaire, an AFL-CIO spokesman said.


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