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Clinton, Obama face off in Pennsylvania

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  • NEW: Each says the other is capable of winning the presidency
  • NEW: Obama again is asked to explain his "bitter" comments
  • Candidates debate each other for first time in nearly two months
  • Pennsylvania debate comes just six days before that state's crucial primary
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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- In their last face-to-face meeting before a crucial primary showdown in Pennsylvania, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went back and forth over recent campaign-trail controversies before staking out differences on taxes and the economy.

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Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama face off Wednesday in their final meet-up before the Pennsylvania primary.

In the end, both conceded their opponent is capable of defeating Republican John McCain for the presidency in November while maintaining they would have the best chance of the two.

"Yes. Yes. Yes," Clinton said when pressed to answer whether Obama, the senator from Illinois, could win. Media reports have said Clinton and her campaign have been quietly courting support, chiefly from Democratic superdelegates who could decide a close race at the party's convention, by arguing that Obama is not electable.

"Now, I think I can do a better job -- obviously that's why I'm here," said Clinton, who promised she will "do everything I possibly can to make sure that one of us takes the oath of office next January."

Obama said Clinton could win, too. He also said he would support the New York senator and former first lady if she is the Democratic nominee, although both candidates declined to say whether they would consider naming the other as a running mate.

"One thing I'm absolutely certain of is, come August when we're in Denver, the Democratic Party will come together," he said.

The candidates spent nearly half of the debate, hosted by ABC News, tilting over flare-ups that have been fodder for journalists, partisans and pundits for the past few weeks. Much of the fire was leveled at Obama, who once again answered questions about controversial statements by his former pastor and his own comments that some rural Pennsylvanians are "bitter."

Obama opened the debate by praising the "core decency" of Pennsylvanians he's met on the campaign trail, saying many of them are frustrated that they feel the government doesn't respond to their concerns.

But that didn't head off a question about his comments, at a California fundraiser, in which he said some voters "cling" to issues like gun rights and religion because they're alienated by Washington in spite of their economic woes.

Obama has said he worded the comments, which were made in response to a question, poorly and that he was referring to how some voters focus on social issues instead of economic ones because they don't believe any politician will help them financially.

Clinton stopped short of calling the comments "elitist," as she has on the campaign trail, but did say she disagrees.

"I just don't think that's how people live their lives," she said. "I can see why people would be taken aback and offended by the remarks."

Obama countered that continuing to focus on what he called a misstatement distracts the campaign from real issues.

"The problem we have in our politics is you take one person's statement, if it's not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death," he said. "That's what Senator Clinton has been doing for the past four days. But I do think it's important to realize it's not helping that person who's sitting at the kitchen table" trying to pay bills.

Obama mentioned attacks made on Clinton for being an elitist during her husband's first White House bid when she said "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas" instead of pursuing a career.

He said he disagreed with those attacks.

Clinton was called on to address a story she told several times during the campaign about being pinned down by sniper fire at an airport in Bosnia during a trip there when she was first lady.

Video of that trip later showed Clinton and daughter Chelsea walking casually and smiling as they were greeted by local dignitaries and school children.

She said she has written accurately about that same trip in the past and that while talking about it during long days on the campaign trail she "was not as accurate as I have been in the past."

"I'm embarrassed by it; I apologized for it," she said. "I said it was a mistake and it is something I hope you can look over."

Both Obama and Clinton said they would stick to strict timelines for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq if elected, even if military commanders warn against it.

"I will certainly take their recommendations into consideration, but ultimately the buck stops with me as the commander in chief," Obama said.

And both promised, although in less direct tones than the first President Bush's infamous "read my lips" line, that they would only increase taxes for the wealthy.

"I am absolutely committed to not raising a single tax on middle class Americans," said Clinton, who said her tax plan would repeal President Bush's tax cuts for people making $250,000 a year or more.

Obama said his plan would lower income taxes for households earning $75,000 or less annually and would increase rates for people with incomes of between $200,000 and $250,000 or more.

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The debate comes just before Tuesday's Pennsylvania showdown, which is considered a make-or-break outing for Clinton. With Obama holding leads in total votes, pledged delegates and the number of states won, many analysts say Clinton's campaign would effectively end with a loss, and that she may need a big victory to continue to look viable.

She held double-digit leads over Obama until the past two weeks, when polls show Obama pulling to within 5 percentage points in the state. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend


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