Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama opened Wednesday's presidential debate on a point of accord: neither would answer head-on whether they'd be willing to name the other as vice president.
Obama, D-Ill., said it was "premature" to discuss the veepstakes, but promised the party would "come together by August," when the party will hold its convention in Denver.
Clinton, D-N.Y., agreed. "Regardless of the differences there may be between us, and there are differences, they pale in comparison to the differences between us and Sen. [John] McCain," she said.
In the first debate since Feb. 26, on stage at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center and moderated by ABC's Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, Clinton said, "I am going to do everything I possibly can to make sure one of us takes the oath of office next January."
Through surrogates and spin, the two Democratic challengers have highlighted each other's misstatements and missteps this week, each trying to seize the momentum in these final contests, and place doubts in the minds of voters and superdelegates about their opponent's potential strength against McCain, the Arizona senator who is the Republicans' presumptive nominee.
Pressed by Stephanopoulos on whether Obama would be able to defeat McCain in the general election, Clinton — after a long statement that avoided the question — said, "Yes, yes, yes."
Obama also expressed confidence in his Democratic rival, saying he "absolutely" thought Clinton could win in November.
But the collegiality between the two candidates had its limits.
Obama defended recent remarks at a San Francisco frundraiser where he characterized small town voters as "bitter" saying they "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them ...as a way to explain their frustrations."
Obama said "that, when people feel like Washington's not listening to them ... then, politically, they end up focusing on those things that are constant, like religion.
"They end up being much more concerned about votes around things like guns, where traditions have been passed on from generation to generation," Obama said.
Clinton said she understood why people were "taken aback" and "offended" by Obama's remarks.
Citing her family history, specifically her grandfather, a factory worker from Scranton, Pa., Clinton said she didn't think her family or the people of Pennsylvania reached for religion out of frustration with Washington.
"I think that is a fundamental sort of misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are bad," Clitnon said.
On stage, Obama attacked Clinton for characterizing him as an elitist for the remarks.
"The problem with our politics is you take one person's statement, if it's not phrased properly and you beat it to death," Obama said. "And that's what Sen Clinton has been doing for the past 4 days."
It's unclear whether Obama's support was impacted by the political firestorm. Recent polling shows Obama losing little ground, but the polling was conducted over the weekend as media coverage of his remarks unfolded.