April 16, 2008
Hillary Rodham Clinton said emphatically Wednesday night that Barack Obama can 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 six days before the Pennsylvania primary.
Asked a similar question about Clinton, Obama said "Absolutely
and I've said so before" - a not-so-subtle response to suggestions from his rival that he could not defeat Republican Sen. John McCain.
In a 90-minute debate, both rivals 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. Obama said, "The U.S. would take appropriate action."
In a debate that moved swiftly between politics and policy, Clinton also issued a first-ever public apology for having claimed erroneously that she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire in 1996 as first lady.
"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 episode. She said she was embarrassed by her error. "I'm sorry I said it," she added.
She previously had explained her incorrect comments by saying she had misspoken.
Obama was asked at one point whether he believed Clinton has been fully truthful as a candidate. "I think that Senator Clinton has a strong record to run on. She wouldn't be here if she
Both Obama and Clinton sidestepped when asked if they would place their rival on the ticket as vice presidential running mate in the fall.
"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.
Clinton was similarly noncommittal. "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," she said.
After primaries and caucuses in 42 of the 50 states, Obama leads his rival in convention delegates, popular votes and states won. She is struggling to stop his drive on the nomination by appealing to party leaders who will attend the convention as superdelegates that he will preside over an electoral defeat at a moment of great opportunity after eight years of Republican rule.
The former first lady has never denied published reports that she once told New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that Obama couldn't win when he called to tell her he would be endorsing the Illinois senator.
And at a news conference earlier this month in California, Clinton sidestepped when asked directly whether Obama would win if he were the Democratic nominee. "I am sure we will have a united Democratic Party. I will do everything possible to make sure we can win and I am confident we will have a Democrat in the White House next year," she said at the time.
Asked a similar question at the debate, she provided a similar answer at first. "I think we have to beat John McCain and I have every reason to believe we're going to have a Democratic president and it's going to be Barack or me.
Pressed by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News to answer the question directly, she said, "Yes, yes, yes ... Now I think I can do a better job."
After nearly a week of increasingly personal criticism, both
candidates seemed eager to temper their rhetoric, even when they disagreed.
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 had a fundamental misunderstanding on the role of religion and faith.
Obama expressed frustration that the campaign has seemed to dwell on issues that have been taken out of context.
Both campaigns are running television ads in Pennsylvania that focus on the flap.
Pennsylvania's primary has 158 convention delegates at stake, the largest prize remaining before the primaries end on June 3.
Obama leads Clinton in the delegate chase, 1,643-1,504. Earlier in the day, he picked up the endorsements of three superdelegates from a pair of states with primaries on May 6 - Reps. Andre Carson
of Indiana and Mel Watt and David Price of North Carolina.
ABC News sponsored and televised the debate, with Charles Gibson and Stephanopoulos moderating.