Distinctions With a Difference in Nevada
By Peter Slevin
LAS VEGAS -- The top three Democrats managed to be both civil and pointed in a two-hour discussion that proved meatier and more accessible than many of the public forums that preceded it. Seated around a table, rather than standing, the principal survivors of Iowa and New Hampshire were determined to give no ground.
Each had more time than usual to make their arguments and occasionally challenge one another, thanks to the absence of the three competitors who dropped out of the race -- and the sponsors' decision not to include Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who has barely registered in polls or the voting results thus far.
Former senator John Edwards, lagging in fundraising and the polls, and frustrated by the attention given to the two front-runners, probably valued the airtime more than either of the other two. He took the edge off his perpetual fighter pose while trying to draw distinctions, particularly with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"We just have to keep pushing," Jonathan Prince, a senior Edwards adviser, said afterward, adding that he does not expect the race to end soon. "No one is on the road to 50 percent of the delegates, by any stretch."
Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama continued to move carefully away from the increasingly messy sniping over race that had overtaken other issues in recent days. Several times Tuesday night, one credited the other, with Clinton saying the Democrats are a "family" that needs to stick together.
Yet each made clear, in tone and substance, that essential parts of their campaign messages and their approaches to a prospective presidency are markedly different. In the fight for delegates in Nevada, South Carolina and the big states beyond, they know that praise and studied niceties will take them only so far.
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