Clinton admits Obama could win White House
U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said emphatically Wednesday night that her rival Barack Obama would be able to win the White House this fall, undercutting her efforts to deny him the nomination by suggesting he would lead the party to defeat.
"Yes, yes, yes," she said when pressed about Obama's electability during a campaign debate in Philadelphia six days before the Pennsylvania primary.
Obama was asked a similar question about Clinton.
"Absolutely and I've said so before," he said.
In a 90-minute debate, both pledged not to raise taxes on individuals making less than $200,000, and said they would respond forcefully if Iran obtains nuclear weapons and uses them against Israel.
"An attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation by the United States," said Clinton.
"The U.S. would take appropriate action," Obama said.
Clinton and Obama both declined to pledge a spot on their ticket this fall to the loser of their epic battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Rivals temper rhetoric
"I think very highly of Senator Clinton's record, but I think it is premature at this point to talk about who the vice-presidential candidates will be because we're still trying to determine who the nominee will be," Obama said.
"I'm going to do everything I possibly can to make sure that one of us takes the oath of office next January. I think that has to be the overriding goal," Clinton said.
After nearly a week of increasingly personal criticism, both candidates seemed eager to temper their rhetoric.
Obama has struggled in recent days to overcome the controversy caused by his comments that residents of small towns become bitter because of economic adversity, and "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" as a result.
He said he was attempting to say that because voters feel ignored by government, "they end up being much more concerned about votes around things like guns, where traditions have been passed on from generation to generation, and those are incredibly important to them."
"People don't cling to their traditions on hunting and guns" out of frustration with their government, Clinton said. She added that Obama has a fundamental misunderstanding on the role of religion and faith.
Clinton also had to explain a mistake when she was asked about her erroneous statement that she had braved sniper fire during a landing in Bosnia as first lady in 1996.
"I may be a lot of things but I am not dumb," she said, adding that she had written in her book that there had been no gunfire during the event.
She apologized for the mistake, saying that she had "said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case."
The 90-minute debate at the National Constitution Center was the first for the two candidates in two months. They last met in Cleveland on Feb. 26, shortly before Clinton injected new life into her campaign with primary wins in Ohio and Texas.
Debate could be their last
It was the 21st debate of the Democratic nomination contest. It also may be the last.
Obama accepted an invitation to debate on Saturday in North Carolina. Clinton said she would debate there on April 27. Neither campaign has agreed on a date. North Carolina holds its primary May 6.
The Philadelphia debate came amid a heated back-and-forth between the two over Obama comments at a private San Francisco fundraiser in which he said residents of small towns cling to religion and guns out of bitterness over their economic plight.
Clinton has called the remarks elitist, while Obama said he chose the wrong words to express the economic insecurity many workers face. Both campaigns are running television ads in Pennsylvania that focus on the flap.
With 10 contests remaining, Obama leads Clinton in the popular vote, pledged delegates and states won. He picked up the endorsements of three superdelegates on Wednesday — Representatives Andre Carson of Indiana and Mel Watt and David Price of North Carolina. Indiana also holds its primary May 6.
Clinton hopes to raise doubts about Obama's electability in a matchup with Senator John McCain, the Republican party nominee, and use those doubts to persuade undecided superdelegates — elected officials and party leaders free to vote their preference — to back her candidacy.
Polls show Clinton ahead of Obama in Pennsylvania, but the margin has narrowed significantly in recent weeks.
Clinton must score a decisive victory in the state to keep her candidacy alive.