Clinton, Obama Shift from Heated to Warm

After an exceedingly cordial one-on-one debate Thursday night, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama head back to the down-and-dirty of the campaign trail, where recent rhetoric had sharpened.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

After a year of campaigning and 18 debates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the last two candidates standing in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Over the next several days, the candidates will take the campaigns from coast to coast in anticipation of Super Tuesday. That's February 5th when 22 states will hold Democratic nominating contests.

NPR's David Greene and Don Gonyea have been traveling with the two candidates all week and join us now. Hello.

DON GONYEA: Hi, Renee.

DAVID GREENE: Hey, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton wake up this morning here in Los Angeles having had their debate last night, where do they go from here? And, David, let's start with you.

GREENE: Well, Clinton is actually staying put. She's doing events today and tomorrow in San Diego, San Jose, Los Angeles - California, a really important state for her. I think she wants to wrap up as many delegates as she possibly can - New York her home state another delegate rich state that she's hoping to win.

GONYEA: Yeah. And if there's a sense that Hillary Clinton has an edge in California and New York - the big Super Tuesday states - Senator Obama is going elsewhere - New Mexico, for a couple of events today; Boise, Idaho, tomorrow. Also, over the weekend, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Chicago, then more next week.

MONTAGNE: And looking back to last night in the debate, it was cordial, friendly, a lot of smiles during this particular debate. Do we expect that to continue as the candidates go back to their respective campaign trail?

GONYEA: Well, we'll find out with Senator Obama, for sure, today. Now, it's worth noting that his rhetoric on the campaign trail in the past few days has been increasingly sharp. He's been saying things like electing Hillary Clinton would be going backwards. He took an old Bill Clinton phrase and turned it around and asked why we would want to build a bridge back to the 20th century.

So, it seems likely that such pointed comments will continue. I mean, the debate was downright chummy, it seemed. But there they are sitting side by side, elbow to elbow. And it's a lot easier to really go after your opponent and not come across as too aggressive or something worse when you're on the road all by yourself. It's part of a stump speech and you've got thousands of supporters cheering you on.

GREENE: You know, it's funny, we were watching the debate last night, and, Don, you'll probably agree with me. It would seem these two candidates were so friendly and cordial, but my e-mail inbox and my BlackBerry was just filling up with really tough and sharp e-mails from the campaigns going after the other candidate all night long.

GONYEA: It was overload. You couldn't read them all and watch the debate at the same time.

GREENE: Yeah. But, you know, Hillary Clinton, I think, came into the debate wanting to be much more positive. And I think she's trying to do that out on the campaign trail as well. I think there's still some lingering worry about the tone in South Carolina.

I was with Hillary Clinton the other night in Atlanta at an event - a National Baptist Convention event - where it was a largely African-American audience. Even some religious church leaders who support Hillary Clinton said they just weren't comfortable with some of the things that Bill Clinton said about Barack Obama in South Carolina. They thought it was much too negative. They felt race became much too big an issue. And, you know, it's funny, Hillary Clinton has acknowledged it. She said that Bill Clinton might have gotten carried away in South Carolina.

So, she seems to be much more positive on the campaign trail. Bill Clinton has been more subdued. And I think the challenge for Hillary Clinton is to try and paint Barack Obama as a novice and paint him as the less experienced candidate without tearing him down. And it's a tough balance to find.

MONTAGNE: So, given that the candidates are headed out now, up and down California, in Hillary Clinton's case, and across the country for both of them, they'll be needing to run campaign ads in all of these states. This is got to be getting awfully expensive, but I think these candidates have plenty of cash on hand.

GONYEA: It's going to cost a lot of money, and they have a lot of money. We just found out overnight that Senator Obama raised $32 million in January alone, that compares to what we thought was a big figure - 23 million for the entire fourth quarter of last year.

GREENE: And we don't know about January numbers for Hillary Clinton yet, Renee, but she raised a bit more than Obama in the fourth quarter of last year, about 27 million. And she has about $38 million on hand right now.

MONTAGNE: Thank you both very much.

GONYEA: It's a pleasure.

GREENE: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Don Gonyea and David Greene in Los Angeles. They are traveling with the Democratic presidential candidates.

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Clinton, Obama Set New Tone in Democratic Debate

Dem debate

Democratic presidential candidates, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, participate in the televised CNN/LA Times/Politico Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate 31 January 2008 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama greets New York Sen. Hillary Clinton following the debate Jan. 31.

Democratic presidential candidates, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama greets New York Sen. Hillary Clinton following the debate Jan. 31. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Leaving behind the acrimony that marked an earlier on-stage encounter in South Carolina, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton held a cordial one-on-one debate Thursday at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, Calif.

The rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination answered questions on health care, Iraq and even the possibility of an Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket in the general election.

Obama set the tone with a far warmer approach than the candidates have been using in recent appearances on the campaign trial.

"I was friends with Hillary Clinton before we started this campaign," he said. "I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after this campaign is over."

But Obama and Clinton did clash on who offers the better leadership style. Obama stressed his ability to inspire and bring people together. Clinton pointed to her experience and ability to get things done.

They also argued over whose health-care plan would cover more people and on Iraq, the issue that has created the deepest divide among the two front-runners since the campaign began.

Forced once again to defend her 2002 Senate vote granting President Bush broad authority to move toward war, Clinton tried to refocus the discussion on how to go forward in Iraq.

She said she wants to begin withdrawing troops within 60 days of becoming president:

"It will be important ... that our nominee be able to present the reasons for getting out of war and the necessary credentials and gravitas for commander in chief," Clinton said. "That has to cross that threshold in the mind of every American voter."

Obama repeated that he has been opposed to the war from the beginning.

"You know, Sen. Clinton mentioned the issue of gravitas and judgment," he said. "The reason that this is important again is that Sen. Clinton, I think, fairly has claimed that she's got the experience on day one. And part of the argument that I'm making in this campaign is that it is important to be right on day one."

The debate was sponsored by CNN, Politico.com and the Los Angeles Times, using some questions sent in by potential voters.

Karen Roper from Pickens, S.C., asked Clinton this:

"How can you be an agent of change when we have had the same two families in the White House for the last 30 years?"

Clinton said she wanted to be considered on her own merits, but added: "You know, it did take a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, and I think it might take another one to clean up after the second Bush."

The subject of former President Bill Clinton came up as well, when Sen. Clinton was asked about the controversial role her husband is playing in her campaign. In a recent interview she admitted his attacks on Obama may have cost her votes in South Carolina, where Obama recorded a decisive primary victory.

"This is my campaign," Clinton said. "The fact is, I'm running for president ... at the end of the day, it is my name that's on the ballot ... as president and commander in chief, I will have to make call."

Moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked the rivals whether they might wind up forming a "dream ticket." That seemed out of the question after the bitterness of the last few weeks — but maybe not:

"Would you consider an Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket going down the road?" Blitzer asked.

"Well, obviously there's a big difference between those two," Obama replied. Clinton joined in the laughter that greeted his response.

Obama tried to sidestep the question, saying it was premature and presumptuous to speculate about vice presidents. But pressed further, he allowed that "Hillary would be on anybody's short list."

"Well, I have to agree with everything Barack just said," Clinton added, to more laughter.

After the debate was over, Obama and Clinton huddled on stage, whispering into each others' ears — and their body language seemed to suggest that these two candidates really liked each other.

It was as if both Clinton and Obama had decided there was too much to risk by repeating the harsh attacks of their last debate in South Carolina.

And that in turn reflected how strong both of these candidates feel going into the Feb. 5 lineup of more than 20 primaries and caucuses.

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