Head to Head, Clinton, Obama Shelve Rancor

After CNN's Wolf Blitzer introduced them as candidates of great historical importance, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama showed some love for John Edwards at the Democratic debate Thursday night at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. Video by CNN
By Dan Balz and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 1, 2008

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 31 -- Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama set aside personal hostilities here Thursday night but sharply disagreed on who has the better combination of leadership and experience to defeat Republicans in November and lead the country as president.

Heading toward a critical round of primaries and caucuses on Tuesday, the two remaining contenders for the Democratic nomination focused their strongest words on Republicans, particularly President Bush and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the party's presidential front-runner.

For almost two hours, Obama and Clinton examined their differences on the Iraq war, health care, immigration and governing style, with Clinton emphasizing her lengthy r¿sum¿ and experience and Obama challenging her about judgment and the ability to inspire the country.

"It is imperative that we have a president, starting on Day One, who can begin to solve our problems, tackle these challenges and seize the opportunities that I think await," Clinton said.

"Senator Clinton, I think, fairly has claimed that she's got the experience on Day One," Obama later replied. "And part of the argument that I'm making in this campaign is that it is important to be right on Day One."

There were occasional barbs, but nothing that approached the candidates' war of words in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last week. When Thursday's debate ended, the two rose and exchanged private comments amid smiles and laughter.

"We're having such a good time," Clinton said toward the end of the forum. "We are. We are. We're having a wonderful time." "Yes, absolutely," Obama agreed.

Each candidate had good moments. The two dueled to a draw during a long and detailed discussion about their competing health-care plans. Clinton scored points on immigration when Obama challenged her leadership on the issue. Obama rallied when the issue of the Iraq war was raised late in the debate.

Neither candidate appeared willing to risk the kind of clash that marked their battle before the South Carolina primary. Instead, they hewed to strategies designed to give them the upper hand after this Tuesday's 22 Democratic primaries and caucuses in what remains a fierce and extremely competitive nomination battle.

In the first debate since former senator John Edwards (N.C.) ended his candidacy, Clinton and Obama remarked that no matter the outcome of the contest, Democrats will make history by selecting either the first woman or the first African American as their presidential nominee.

"What I think is exciting is that the way we are looking at the Democratic field, now down to the two of us, is we're going to get big change," Clinton said.

Her answer came in response to a question about the endorsement Obama received Monday from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and how she responded to the liberal icon's call for a new generation of leadership to match that of the late president John F. Kennedy, his brother.

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