Obama hits Clinton with early debate punches

November 17, 2007

LAS VEGAS (AFP) -- Democratic White House challenger Barack Obama accused under-fire front-runner Hillary Clinton of dodging straight questions Thursday, in a high stakes campaign debate.

Clinton shrugged off the Illinois senator's attacks, in a feisty opening exchange of the showdown, and argued she, and not Obama had the experience needed of a president.
""What the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions, that is not what we have seen out of Senator Clinton,"" Obama charged, seeking to capitalize on Clinton's missteps in a previous debate.
Clinton engaged in an angry back-and-forth with Obama on healthcare, as tensions flared in the opening moments of the debate.
""It is important that we have a candidate that is tested and a president who is ready to lead from day one,"" Clinton said, in a knock at Obama's perceived lack of experience at the top of high-level politics.
After a grilling from another Democratic candidate, John Edwards, Clinton hit back, saying: ""When somebody starts throwing mud at least we can hope it is accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook.""
The fast-growing western state of Nevada hosts a Democratic nominating caucus on January 19.
On Wednesday, Clinton tried to ease the pressure by coming out against a controversial scheme to give illegal immigrants driver's licenses, which was proposed and then rejected by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Her waffling answer to a question on the plan last month in Philadelphia gave her rivals an opening to accuse her of dodging tough questions and seeking to finesse positions according to the political winds.
Obama is accusing Clinton of following a similar tactic in foreign policy.
Though Clinton still enjoys a strong lead among Democratic challengers, several recent polls suggest the race may be narrowing.
She saw that lead slip to 19 percent, in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national survey from a previous 30-point advantage.
Two polls in the key state of New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the first presidential primary contest, showed Clinton still leading, but edging back towards the field.
In Iowa, the race is a statistical dead heat, recent polls show.