Democrats debate at National Constitution Center

Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton went head to head at the Constitution Center Wednesday night in a tense, nationally televised debate.


Photo courtesy Michael Bryant, Philadelphia Inquirer

To see TTN’s photo slideshow of voters before the debate, click here.

Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton went head to head at the Constitution Center Wednesday night in a tense, nationally televised debate.

With less than a week to the Pennsylvania Primary on April 22, the two made their cases to the people of Pennsylvania and all of America. Moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos hit the candidates hard and opened the debate with a question that has been on many minds.

Gibson asked the two if they would commit to having the other candidate as their vice president if they won the nomination. After a long pause, Obama danced around the question.

“Look, this has been an extraordinary journey that both Sen. Clinton and I have been on and a number of other able candidates. And I think very highly of Sen. Clinton’s record,” Obama said. “But as I’ve said before, I think it’s premature at this point for us to talk about who vice presidential candidates will be, because we’re still trying to determine who the nominee will be.”

Clinton wouldn’t commit to a Clinton-Obama ticket if she were to receive the nomination but said that come January, one of them is going to be in the White House.

Obama spent much of the first half hour defending personal choices he has made on the campaign trail from his affiliation to Rev. Jeremiah Wright to his friendship with William Ayres, a former member of a radical group that carried out numerous bombings during the 1960’s.

Clinton chastised Obama’s choice to continue attending Wright’s church, even after he made controversial remarks after Sept. 11.

“For Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been just
intolerable for me,” Clinton said. “And, therefore, I would have not been able to stay in the church.”

The debate incorporated video questions from voters. Via video, Tom Rooney asked Clinton how she would rebuild her credibility after her misspeaking on her trip to Bosnia.

“I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004. I laid it all out there. And you’re right. On a couple of occasions in the last weeks, I just said some things that weren’t in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book. And, you know, I’m embarrassed by it,” Clinton said. “I have apologized for it. I’ve said it was a mistake.”

She blamed the gaff on a lack of sleep and said that she is proud she was able to go to Bosnia and more than 80 other countries. Clinton said her extensive international experience gives her a great advantage in the election, especially against Sen. John McCain.

Voter Mandy Garber of Pittsburgh wanted to know if the candidates really planned on pulling troops out of Iraq or if it was just talk to get elected.

Obama said the president has final say over military decisions and that he is disappointed with the current president’s choice to just follow Gen.David Petraeus.

“Well, the president sets the mission. The general and our troops carry out that mission. And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership, which our military has performed brilliantly,” Obama said. “But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer.”

He added that the U.S. military is overstretched right now and would not be able to tend to another region if a crisis broke out.

Clinton said when she takes office, she would ask her security advisers to devise a plan to start withdrawing troops within 60 days.

“I will make it very clear that we will do so in a responsible and careful manner because, obviously, withdrawing troops and equipment is dangerous,” Clinton said. “I will also make it clear to the Iraqis that they no longer have a blank check from the president of the United States.”

She said withdrawing the troops will force the Iraqis to develop better diplomatic relations.

In a poll conducted by Temple, Clinton leads Obama 44 percent to 35 percent among Democratic voters in Pennsylvania who will likely vote in the primary.

With more than 150 pledged delegates up for grabs in Pennsylvania, Tuesday’s primary could end up being a major determinant of who gets the nomination for the Democratic Party.

LeAnne Matlach can be reached at

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