LOS ANGELES -- Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton sparred, for the most part cordially, over immigration, health care and the war in Iraq in their first one-on-one debate on Thursday as they faced high-stakes Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses that could go a long way toward determining the party's presidential nominee.
Clinton emphasized that the nation needed a president ready to go to work on "Day One." Obama responded: "Senator Clinton, I think fairly, has claimed that she's got the experience on Day One. And part of the argument that I'm making in this campaign is that it is important to be right on Day One."
Just five days before Super Tuesday, the two alternated between addressing each other with civility and pointed swipes, underscoring the importance of the upcoming contests. The debate came on the day Obama's campaign reported raising a staggering $32 million in January, cash aplenty to advertise all through the nearly two dozen upcoming races from coast to coast -- and contests beyond.
Clinton's campaign reported raising $26.8 million from October through December, the most recent period that she reported.
Clinton defended the increasingly high-profile role of her husband, former President Clinton, in her campaign and his recent sharp criticism of Obama.
Responding to a question on how could she control him in the White House if she couldn't on the campaign trail, Clinton said, "At the end of the day, it's my name that's on the ballot ... It's a lonely job in the White House."
Both candidates were asked about the possibility of a "dream ticket" of Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton.
"Obviously there's a big difference between those two," Obama said. "I respect Senator Clinton, I think her service to this country is extraordinary." But he said, "We've got a lot more road to travel" before such a decision.
Clinton agreed it was too early to discuss.
Making amends for his apparent snub of her at Monday's State of the Union Address, Obama assisted Clinton by pulling back her chair both as the debate, televised on CNN, began and ended. They then embraced.
But is wasn't all sweetness and light.
One of their most pointed exchanges came on the subject of whether illegal immigrants should be able to obtain driver's licenses. Obama supports doing so while Clinton initially supported it and now opposes it.
"Senator Clinton gave a number of different answers over the course of six weeks on this," Obama said, turning to Clinton. "Initially, you said you were for it, then you said you were against it." He said he was raising her apparent wavering to underscore that it is "a difficult political issue."
Clinton called the controversy "a diversion" from efforts to come up with comprehensive immigration reform. "I sponsored immigration reform before Barack came to the Senate," she said.
Obama argued for his candidacy, saying, "I respect Senator Clinton's record. I think it's a terrific record. But I also believe that the skills that I have are the ones that are needed right now to move the country forward, otherwise I wouldn't be running for president."
They also clashed on Iraq.
Clinton suggested only she had "the necessary credentials and gravitas" to lead the country in withdrawing from Iraq without endangering U.S. forces or further destabilizing the area. She said it was crucial to bring Syria and Iran to the diplomatic table.
Obama shot back, "Senator Clinton mentioned the issue of gravitas and judgment. I think it is much easier for us to have the argument when we have a nominee who says `I always thought this was a bad idea. This was a bad strategy.' It was not just a problem of execution."
Clinton voted in October 2002 to authorize President Bush to use force in Iraq, while Obama opposed such authority in a speech he gave in 2002 while he was a member of the Illinois state Senate.
The two also reached out quickly to backers of former rival John Edwards, who bowed out of the race Wednesday without endorsing either one. Both praised his efforts in their opening statements.
Obama called Edwards "a voice for this party and this country for many years to come." Clinton saluted both Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, as setting "their personal example of courage and leadership" in their advocacy for the poor.
Clinton drew rounds of laughter in the Kodak Theatre -- home of the Academy Awards -- when she asked whether it was good for the country to have another Clinton in the White House, further extending Bush and Clinton family control over government. "It did take a Clinton to clean after the first Bush and I think it might take another one to clean up after the second Bush," she said.
Befitting a Hollywood audience, among the stars in the theater were Diane Keaton, Jason Alexander, Pierce Brosnan, Rob Reiner, Stevie Wonder, Kate Capshaw, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Whitford and Gary Shandling.
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