Clinton, Obama make peace

Clinton, Obama make peace but spar over war
By Ellen Wulfhorst and Jeff Mason

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton struck a cordial tone in their first one-on-one presidential debate on Thursday, directing their attacks at Republican front-runner John McCain while disagreeing on who could best lead U.S. troops out of Iraq.

The two Democratic White House contenders dropped the angry and confrontational approach of their last debate in South Carolina, adopting a friendly tone and saying their similarities were greater than their differences.

"I was friends with Hillary Clinton before we started this campaign; I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after this campaign is over," said Obama, a 46-year-old Illinois senator who would be the first black U.S. president.

Clinton, a 60-year-old New York senator who would be the first woman U.S. president, said the Republican White House contenders were offering "more of the same."

"Just by looking at us, you can tell we aren't more of the same," she said at the debate at Los Angeles' Kodak Theatre. "We will change our country."

The meeting was the final debate ahead of Tuesday's Democratic nominating contests in 22 states, the biggest single day of voting in U.S. presidential nominating history. Clinton and Obama are in a tight battle for the right to represent Democrats in November's presidential election.

They split the first four significant nominating contests, with Obama winning Iowa and South Carolina and Clinton winning New Hampshire and Nevada.

Both candidates leveled criticism at the 71-year-old McCain, citing his comment U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for 100 years and his support for extending President George W. Bush's tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 after voting against them at the time.

"Somewhere along the line, the (McCain) Straight-Talk Express lost some wheels and now he is in favor of extending Bush tax cuts that went to some of the wealthiest Americans who don't need them and we're not even asking for them," Obama said.
Clinton, asked about the prospect of another term in the White House for a Clinton after eight years of her husband and 12 years of a member of the Bush family, took aim at both Bushes.


"It did take a Clinton to clean after the first Bush and I think it might take another one to clean up after the second Bush," she said.

It was the first debate since last week's fierce South Carolina showdown, which featured harsh personal attacks between the two senators that sparked a week of bitter accusations by Obama, Clinton and Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton.

But they eased off the attacks after Obama's South Carolina win and clearly decided it was better to stay positive in Thursday's debate.

Obama, an early opponent of the Iraq war, questioned her 2002 Senate vote to authorize the war in Iraq. He assailed Clinton who has frequently said she had the experience to lead from "day one" in the White House.

"Part of the argument that I'm making in this campaign is that it is important to be right on day one," he said.

Both candidates pointed to health care as one of their biggest policy differences. Clinton's plan requires all Americans to have coverage, and she criticized Obama's plan because it could leave up to 15 million people uninsured.

"You have to bite this bullet, you have to say 'Yes, we will try to get to universal health care'," she said.

Obama said anyone who wanted health care could get it under his plan, which would focus on bringing down costs.

Obama and Clinton also disagreed on whether illegal immigrants should have the right to driver's licenses, with Clinton opposing the idea. But Obama noted Clinton's difficulty in forming a position after a debate in October when she dodged the issue several times.

"Sen. Clinton gave a number of different answers over the course of six weeks on this issue, and that did appear political," Obama said.

The debate was their first since Obama crushed Clinton and John Edwards in a South Carolina landslide on Saturday, driving Edwards from the race. Both Clinton and Obama praised Edwards in their opening statements.

Earlier on Thursday, popular California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed Republican presidential candidate John McCain, giving the Arizona senator a boost in his drive to gain his party's nomination for the White House.

"He is a great American hero and an extraordinary leader. This is why I am endorsing him to be our next president of the United States," the actor-turned-politician said.

California is the largest prize among the states that hold nominating contests on "Super Tuesday." McCain, the Republican front-runner, already leads state polls over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Obama reported he raised $32 million in the month of January alone, matching his biggest three-month fundraising haul of the year and helping him pay for new ads in a half-dozen states that hold contests after "Super Tuesday."

(Writing by John Whitesides; editing by Howard Goller)

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