Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sparred over health care, immigration and the war in Iraq in a debate in Los Angeles Thursday. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports the last two major contenders for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination also found common ground as they head into party preference polls on Tuesday.

In front of an audience studded with Hollywood celebrities, Obama and Clinton highlighted their differences, as both promised a change from the Bush administration.

The discussion was cordial in contrast to a tense exchange last week in South Carolina, where Obama won Saturday's primary. In the debate broadcast on the Cable News Network, Clinton and Obama compared health care plans and highlighted their differences on illegal immigration. Clinton says on this issue, despite their differences, they share some of the same values.

"We want to be fair to people. We want to respect the dignity of every human being, every person who is here, but we are trying to work our way through to get to where we need to be. And that is to have a united Democratic Party with fair-mined Republicans who will join us to fix this broken immigration system," she said.

The candidates criticized Republican presidential frontrunner John McCain for his comment that U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for 100 years, and for supporting an extension of President Bush's tax cuts after twice voting against them.

Clinton was asked how she can bring change to the White House when just two families, the Bushes and Clintons, have held the office of president for decades. She says she is running on her own merits, not those of her husband -- former president Bill Clinton -- who defeated President George H. W. Bush in 1992.

"And 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," she said.

Clinton says her record of public service as an attorney, First Lady and U.S. senator from New York makes her the candidate best prepared to take on the duties of president on her first day in the White House. Obama responded:

"I respect Senator Clinton's record. I think it's a terrific record. But I also believe that the skills that I have are the ones that are needed right now to move the country forward, otherwise I wouldn't be running for president of the United States," he said.

California is one of 22 states that will hold Democratic Party contests Tuesday, which is known as Super Tuesday. Twenty-one states will hold Republican contests. Among Democrats, Clinton leads in opinion polls in California and several other key states, including New York and New Jersey.

However, Obama received important endorsements this week from Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of the late president John F. Kennedy. She said Obama, like her father, can inspire the country.

Senator Clinton also boasts some members of the Kennedy family among her supporters, and says both her candidacy, and Obama's, have created enthusiasm.

The two had words of praise for former North Carolina senator John Edwards, who ended his campaign this week, leaving the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination a two-person contest.