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Obama, Clinton stress differences on Iraq, issues

ByABC News
February 2, 2008, 1:04 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama drew sharp distinctions Thursday on Iraq, health care and immigration, facing off in their only one-on-one debate before a pivotal set of contests next week.

The last two Democrats standing agreed on two things: Either of them represents a stark change from President Bush, and one will be the nation's first woman or African-American president. But Clinton drew laughs with her pitch to succeed Bush.

"It did take a Clinton to clean (up) after the first Bush, and I think it might take another one to clean up after the second Bush," she said.

The rivals are trying to define each other for voters in 22 states from California to New York who take part in primaries and caucuses on Tuesday. Their race is close: Each has two major-state victories apiece, while Clinton also won "beauty contests" in Michigan and Florida that awarded no delegates.

The Iraq war was a flash point, as it has been since the campaign began in earnest last year. Obama reinforced a point he has made often: that he was against the war "from the beginning" and Clinton supported the invasion of Iraq with her 2002 vote to give Bush the authority to use military force.

Obama said he would make a stronger Democratic nominee in November because he offers "a clear contrast as somebody who never supported this war. The question is: Can we make an argument that this was a conceptually flawed mission from the start?"

Clinton said she did not believe a Republican nominee could use the Iraq war against either Democratic candidate. "I think the Democrats have a much better grasp of the reality of the situation," she said.

She stressed that her Iraq vote in 2002 was a "sincere vote based on my assessment at the time" and "was not authority for a pre-emptive war."

Both Democrats took shots at GOP front-runner John McCain, pointing out his support of Bush's plan to temporarily increase U.S. troops in Iraq. Clinton knocked the Arizona senator for calling her plan to withdraw troops "surrender." Obama criticized him for wanting to make permanent tax cuts Bush supported in 2001 and 2003, after initially voting against them.