With one week to go before crucial primaries in the large, delegate rich states of Texas and Ohio, the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, met in a televised debate Tuesday. The debate was held in Cleveland, Ohio and broadcast by the MSNBC cable channel. VOA's Greg Flakus has more on the story from San Antonio, Texas.
The two candidates clashed early on in the debate over the issues of health care and free trade, but their answers revealed only minor differences between them on those issues. What drove the conflict was the question of which side had acted unfairly towards the other.
Clinton accused Obama of misrepresenting her position on those issues in printed pamphlet that his campaign mailed to voters in Ohio.
"What I find regrettable is that in Senator Obama's mailing that he has sent out across Ohio it is almost as if the health insurance companies and the Republicans wrote it," she said.
Clinton said her plan covers all Americans, whereas the plan put forward by Obama would leave millions of people without coverage.
Obama responded that the only difference between their two plans was that his would not force people to buy the insurance, but would make it available to everyone. He also brushed aside Clinton's complaints about his mailings.
"Senator Clinton, in her campaign, has constantly sent out negative attacks on us, emails, mobile calls, flyers, television ads, radio calls, and we have not whined about it because I understand that is the nature of these campaigns," he said.
Clinton in recent days has questioned the readiness of her opponent to be commander in chief, saying that he does not have the experience in office that she has. In the debate she reiterated some of her points, saying that, in a previous debate, he had said he would bomb Pakistan and that he would meet with dictators around the world without any preconditions.
Obama denied that he had said he would bomb Pakistan and said he, as president, would take action against terrorists hiding in that nation's remote areas if he had intelligence indicating where they were and Pakistan could not or would not act.
He also questioned Senator Clinton's judgment in voting to authorize President Bush to go to war in Iraq.
"On the most important foreign policy decision that we faced in a generation, whether or not to go into Iraq, I was very clear as to why we should not, that it would fan the flames of anti-American sentiment, that it would distract us from Afghanistan, that it would cost us billions of dollars, thousands of lives and not make us more safe and I do not believe it has made us more safe," he said.
Later in the debate, Clinton made her clearest statement to date on that issue, admitting that her vote had been a mistake.
"Although my vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again. I would certainly, as president, never have taken us to war in Iraq," she said.
There were no dramatic moments in this debate where one or the other of the two candidates scored a major advance over the other, but it did give them both a chance to expand on their positions on some important issues ahead of the March 4 contests, in which voters in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island will go to the polls.
Early voting has already started here in Texas and many districts are reporting huge increases in voter turnout over past elections. Clinton has campaigned hard here among Hispanics, women and laborers, but Obama seems to have excited enthusiastic support from blacks and young voters. He has now drawn even with her in the polls here and in Ohio, both states where she had been in the lead only a few weeks ago. Senator Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, campaigning here in Texas last week, said that she needs to win both states to remain in the race.