Clinton, Obama vow to change tone of campaigns

January 15, 2008 8:52:43 PM PST
Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama jointly pledged to bury a rancorous debate over race Tuesday night, each agreeing in a nationally televised debate that the other had long favored civil rights. They both blamed supporters for some of the anger that seeped into their competition for the democratic nomination in recent days.

"We both have exuberant and sometimes uncontrollable supporters," Clinton said in the opening moments of a two-hour televised debate.

Obama said both have "supporters or staff who get overzealous. They start saying things that I would not say."

Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards sat down for their debate as the former first lady won a meaningless Michigan presidential primary, a contest held in violation of party rules.

Asked whether he regrets that his campaign was pushing the story of racial divisiveness, Obama replied, "not only in hindsight, but going forward."

For her part, Clinton sidestepped when asked whether she would ban businessman Robert Johnson from a role in her campaign. Johnson made an evident reference to Obama's youthful drug use in a weekend appearance - although he denied that was his intent.

Still, asked whether Johnson's comments were inappropriate, she replied, "yes, they were."

The Michigan primary was an election in name only, where Clinton was the only major candidate entered. She faced competition principally from the "uncommitted" line on the ballot, an option that some supporters of Edwards and Obama advocated to embarrass the former first lady.

Returns from nearly 25 percent of the state's precincts showed her with 61 percent of the vote, and uncommitted gaining about a third.

The debate was held four days before Saturday's caucuses in Nevada, the next official event in a wide open race for the party's presidential nomination.