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Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton speak after participating in a debate at the University of Texas on Thursday.
Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton speak after participating in a debate at the University of Texas on Thursday. Ben Sklar/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton debated Thursday night in Austin in an exchange that shifted from civil to contentious and back again.
In 11 days, Democratic voters in both Texas and Ohio will go to the polls in what are widely viewed as do-or-die primaries for Clinton. She has now lost 11 contests in a row and trails Obama in money, delegates and momentum.
After 45 minutes of polite exchanges with little disagreement about immigration, the economy and the new leader of Cuba, Clinton was invited to repeat what she has been saying for weeks on the stump: Her opponent is all talk and no action.
"There are differences between our records and our accomplishments. I have to confess, I was somewhat amused the other night when, on one of the TV shows, one of Sen. Obama's supporters was asked to name one accomplishment of Sen. Obama, and he couldn't."
Obama defended himself by saying, "Sen. Clinton of late has said: 'Let's get real.' The implication is that the people who've been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional."
He continued, "You know, the thinking is that somehow, they're being duped, and eventually they're going to see the reality of things. Well, I think they perceive the reality of what's going on in Washington very clearly."
Obama was also asked about a charge that he plagiarized lines from speeches of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — something the Clinton campaign has been pushing hard.
"The notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who was one of my national co-chairs, who gave me the line and suggested that I use it, I think, is silly," he said.
Clinton came back with a zinger. "You know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox."
The audience booed her.
She also explored another line of attack that she has been using on the stump against Obama — that only one of them is ready to be commander in chief. She cited her time as first lady and her service in the Senate as her qualifications.
"What I mean is that, you know, for more than 15 years, I've been honored to represent our country in more than 80 countries, to negotiate on matters such as opening borders for refugees during the war in Kosovo, to stand up for women's rights as human rights around the world," she said.
Obama cited his judgment as his qualification. "What I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation — whether or not to go to war in Iraq — I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. And I think that Sen. Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that."
Clinton needed to do something that would blunt Obama's momentum after 11 straight victories. She is still leading in the polls in both Ohio and Texas but not by much, and her lead is shrinking.
At the end of the debate, Clinton seemed to acknowledge for the first time the possibility that she might not be the nominee.
"And, you know, no matter what happens in this contest — and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored," she said.
Clinton turned to Obama and reached out to shake his hand. It was gracious and warm, and if it didn't change the dynamic, it did get her a standing ovation.
Clinton still has one more opportunity to go face-to-face with Obama before the March 4 primaries. The two candidates will meet for another debate on Tuesday in Cleveland.