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Obama, Clinton Face Off in Texas Debate

February 22, 2008 at 6:20 PM EDT
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Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton met Thursday in the first of two debates leading up to the March 4 Ohio and Texas primaries. Judy Woodruff reports on the highlights of the debate, held in Austin, Texas.

JIM LEHRER: Now, last night’s debate in Texas. Judy Woodruff reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The debate in Austin began with a series of civil exchanges on issues ranging from U.S. policy towards Cuba, the economy, and immigration. That all changed when CNN’s John King posed this question to Hillary Clinton.

JOHN KING, CNN anchor: You’ve said, quote, “My opponent gives speeches; I offer solutions.” You said the choice for Democrats in this campaign is, quote, “talk versus action.”

But since we’re in Texas, I’d like to borrow a phrase that they often use here, and you’ve used yourself, in the context of President Bush: Are you saying that your opponent is all hat and no cattle? And can you say that after the last 45 minutes?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: There are differences between our records and our accomplishments. I have to confess, I was somewhat amused the other night when, on one of the TV shows, one of Senator Obama’s supporters was asked to name one accomplishment of Senator Obama, and he couldn’t.

So I know that there are comparisons and contrasts to be drawn between us and it’s important that voters get that information. So, yes, I do think that words are important and words matter, but actions speak louder than words.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Barack Obama responded that such attacks were aimed not just at him, but at his supporters.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: You know, Senator Clinton of late has said, “Let’s get real.” And the implication is, is that the people who’ve been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional and that, you know… the 20 million people who’ve been paying attention to 19 debates, and the editorial boards all across the country at newspapers who’ve given me endorsements, including every major newspaper here in the state of Texas… you know, the thinking is that somehow they’re being duped and that eventually they’re going to see the reality of things.

Clinton: 'change you can Xerox'

JUDY WOODRUFF: CNN moderator Campbell Brown pressed the issue, raising a question about Obama's choice of words on the campaign trail.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN anchor: There has been a lot of attention lately on some of your speeches, that they're very similar to some of the speeches by your friend and supporter, Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts. And Senator Clinton's campaign has made a big issue of this. To be blunt, they've accused you of plagiarism.


CAMPBELL BROWN: How do you respond?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, look, first of all, it's not a lot of speeches. There are two lines in speeches that I've been giving over the last couple of weeks. I've been campaigning now for the last two years.

Deval is a national co-chairman of my campaign and suggested an argument that I share, that words are important. Words matter. And the implication that they don't I think diminishes how important it is to speak to the American people directly about making America as good as its promise.

And the notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who was one of my national co-chairs who gave me the line and suggested that I use it I think is silly.

You know, this is where we start getting into silly season in politics, and I think people start getting discouraged about it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's been Hillary Clinton's staff who have mainly pointed to the borrowed language, but this time she chose to respond.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That's, I think, a very simple proposition.

And, you know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in; it's change you can Xerox. And I just don't think...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: That's not...

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: No, but, you know, but, Barack, it is, because, you know, if you look ... if you look -- if you look at the YouTube of these videos, it does raise questions.

Health care broadsides exchanged

JUDY WOODRUFF: The candidates also clashed again on health care.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: If you do not have a plan that starts out attempting to achieve universal health care, you will be nibbled to death, and we will be back here with more and more people uninsured and rising costs.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Senator Clinton believes the only way to achieve universal health care is to force everybody to purchase it. And my belief is the reason that people don't have it is not because they don't want it, but because they can't afford it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The forum closed on a personal question to the candidates, asking them to recall a moment in their lives when they had been tested the most.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I wouldn't point to a single moment, and what I look at is the trajectory of my life, because I was raised by a single mom. My father left when I was two, and I was raised by my mother and my grandparents.

And there were rocky periods during my youth where I made mistakes and was off course. And what was most important in my life was learning to take responsibility for my own actions, learning to take responsibility for not only my own actions, but how I can bring people together to actually have an impact on the world.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think everybody here knows I've lived through some crises and some challenging moments in my life.

You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country. And I resolved at a very young age that I'd been blessed, and that I was called by my faith and by my upbringing to do what I could to give others the same opportunities and blessings that I took for granted.

That's what gets me up in the morning. That's what motivates me in this campaign.

And you know, no matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored. I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.

And you know, whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That last exchange was the most cordial of the evening, leaving supporters of both candidates wondering what next Tuesday's debate in Cleveland might bring.