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Democratic Candidates End Dispute on Race, Debate Other Issues


Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama promised to end a bitter dispute about race that has divided their campaigns, as the two took part in a wide-ranging debate with fellow candidate John Edwards Tuesday evening. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan has details from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Clinton and Obama blamed their aides and others for inflaming a debate over race - Senator Clinton pointing to what she calls exuberant and sometimes uncontrollable supporters and Senator Obama blaming supporters and staff who get overzealous. The dispute stemmed from comments by Mrs. Clinton that some critics said downplayed the role of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior in political reforms in the 1960's. Mrs. Clinton said, last week, that King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying it took a president to get it done.

As some African Americans questioned the remark, Clinton supporters blamed the Obama campaign for fanning the flames. However, Mrs. Clinton said Tuesday she and Obama agree that that neither race nor gender should be part of the campaign. Mr. Obama was also conciliatory.

"What I am absolutely convinced of is that everybody here is committed to racial equality, has been historically," he said. "And, what I also expect is that I am going to be judged as a candidate in terms of how I am going to be improving the lives of the people in Nevada and people all across the country."

Tuesday's debate with Clinton, Obama and former Senator John Edwards comes in advance of Republican and Democratic Party caucuses in Nevada Saturday. They are the first test of this year's presidential candidates in a Western state. Nevada is nearly one-quarter Hispanic and the Tuesday's exchange on the MSNBC cable network was cosponsored by African American and Hispanic organizations.

It was billed as black-brown debate, but touched on a variety of topics, from terrorism and the war in Iraq to education and health care. Mrs. Clinton said her platform addresses the needs of minority voters.

"The agenda for America is the agenda for African Americans and for Hispanics and we need to merge that and we need to have a political system where people feel like they can vote for anybody because we are all on the same page," she said. "We are all going to make progress together."

The candidates also spoke of problems in the U.S economy and of a rash of home foreclosures in Nevada and other states. Senator Edwards says the economy is growing, but that the growth is helping the wealthiest Americans and multinational corporations.

"You ask any middle-class family in America and they will tell you they do not feel financially secure," he said.

The network that broadcast the debate, NBC, excluded a fourth Democratic Party candidate, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, because he fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses. A judge ordered the network to include him, but the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the decision, just before the debate started.

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