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Race Returns as Topic in Nevada Debate

By Peter Slevin
LAS VEGAS -- Outside among the palm trees, the chanting is more basketball game than political debate.

"Here we go, Edwards! Here we go!"

"O-bama! O-eight! O-bama! O-eight!"

Hillary Clinton's faithful stood on street corners, waving signs and cheering.

Inside, the three principal survivors of Iowa and New Hampshire tried to figure a way to do some good for themselves four days before the campaign's first presidential contest in the West. Nevada voters will caucus on Saturday.

It has been a week when discussions of race dominated the news, with Clinton and Obama and their surrogates sniping at one another before calling a truce on Monday. Tonight's debate on MSNBC, held on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, immediately addressed the race in a state with far different demographics than Iowa or New Hampshire.

Clinton, challenged about her campaign's comments, cited King's birthday and praised both Obama and Edwards. She said all three of them, including Edwards, a millworker's son, owe something to the civil rights movement.

"All of us are here as a result of what he did," Clinton said.

Obama backed up Clinton with words of his own about King's legacy. When confronted by Tim Russert with a list of comments compiled by the Obama campaign and attributed to the Clinton campaign and its followers, Obama said, sometimes "supporters and staff get overzealous. They start saying things that I would not say."

The debate is being sponsored by the Nevada Democratic Party, along with 100 Black Men of America, the Nevada African American Leadership Council, Impacto and the College of Southern Nevada.

Twenty minutes into the debate, someone in the audience shouted, "These are race-based questions!"

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 15, 2008; 9:25 PM ET
Categories:  The Debates  
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