Clinton, Obama Step Back From Race Debate

Jan 18, 2008 | Political

By Chris Levister

Obama Offers Olive Leaf as King Controversy Boils Over

Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama sensing a head-on train wreck jointly pledged to bury a rancorous debate over race Tuesday agreeing that a prolonged clash over civil rights could derail the party's drive to win the White House.

Both blamed supporters for some of the ferment that had seeped into the competition for the party's presidential nomination in recent days.

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

On Dr. Martin Luther King's 79th birthday, the two leading Democratic contenders shifted gears after Clinton's comment that it had taken President Lyndon B. Johnson, a white politician, to finally realize King's dream of racial equality by signing the Civil Rights Act.  

The Clinton-Obama racial tempest boiled over this weekend, whipping around the Internet, print media, and on television like a brushfire. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking Black member of Congress, expressed disappointment at the comments by Hillary and Bill Clinton that he sees as diminishing the historic role of civil rights activists.

Obama offered Clinton an olive leaf Monday night, issuing a statement saying he didn't want the campaign to "degenerate into so much tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, that we would lose sight of why we are all doing this."

Referring to Clinton and Sen. John Edwards, he said that while they may have disagreements, "we share the same goals. We are all Democrats. We all believe in civil rights, we all believe in equal rights."


Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama agree to focus on bread and butter issues after racial tempest turns nasty.  

Clinton's campaign issued a statement, saying it was time to seek common ground.

"Both Senator Obama and I know we are where we are today because of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King," Clinton said at a labor-sponsored birthday party in honor of the slain civil rights leader.  "We have to bring our party together and our country together."

Meanwhile Clinton, Obama and the surviving presidential candidates have put Iowa and New Hampshire in the rear view mirror they're speeding toward a very big, very Western political panorama where Nevada voters will caucus on January 19 and Californians offer the largest delegate prize of all on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Speaking at a rally in Commerce Friday Clinton unveiled a $70 billion economic stimulus package aimed at making it easier for millions of people to pay their mortgages and home heating bills.  Clinton's call for a freeze on foreclosures and tax cuts for middle class workers came during an appearance at the Electrical Training Institute, a facility affiliated with the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Obama this week hit the San Francisco area – a powerhouse urban arena and political fundraising center that has a population bigger than all of New Hampshire. The senator seeking to become the first Black president is aiming direct appeals to younger, inspired Latino voters.

Political observers say there are a handful of key factors at play as the Feb. 5 primary approaches that will define the West's unique role as new territory for presidential candidates on both the Republican and Democratic side, among them female voters, and Latinos, the fastest growing constituency in the state and an acknowledged political force of the future.


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