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Obama and Clinton Clash in Personal Terms

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) clashed in unusually personal terms in the first thirty minutes of tonight's debate in South Carolina, a continuation of the ramped-up rhetoric that has dominated the campaign trail over the past few days.

The Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (AP Photo)

The extended back and forth, which roamed far and wide over the opposition research books compiled by each campaign, began with a question about whether Obama had outlined how he would pay for is various proposals.

"There is a set of assertions made by Senator Clinton as well as her husband that are not factually accurate," Obama said, continuing a line of criticism he unveiled in a conversation with ABC earlier today. Obama then quickly pivoted to his core message: "People are looking for someone who is going to solve problems and not resort to the typical politics of Washington."

Clinton immediately pushed back, arguing that Obama often said one thing but did another when it came to his voting record. "When it comes to a lot of issues that are important in this race, it is difficult to understand what Senator Obama said because when confronted on it he says that's not what he meant," Clinton said.

A visibly perturbed Obama brought out the big guns, noting that he felt the pinch of Ronald Reagan's economic policies as a community organizer even as Clinton was serving as a "corporate lawyer on the board of Wal-Mart." Yowza.

Clinton, never one to back down from verbal fisticuffs, sought to land a big blow in response -- alleging that she was fighting for economic justice "when you were practicing law and representing your contributor Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago," a reference to Obama's much-debated relationship with the now-indicted real estate developer. (Clinton's remark drew a oohs/aahs as well as some boos from the studio audience.)

Obama was later asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer to respond. Obama sought to downplay the relationship and turn the question back to his core message of changing the way politics is conducted. "Consistency matters," he said. "Truthfulness in campaigns matters."

Throughout the first portion of the debate, Obama aggressively went after Clinton over her economic stimulus package, her vote for the bankruptcy bill during her first term and her general approach to politics.

After letting the jabs pass in the early going, Clinton sought to legitimize her campaign's criticisms of Obama and his record while painting herself as a veteran campaigner used to the back and forth of the campaign. "I am used to taking the incoming fire," she said. "I've taken it for 16 years. When you get into this arena you can't expect to have a hands off attitude about your record," she said.

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By Chris Cillizza  |  January 21, 2008; 8:50 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: A Few More Thoughts on Tonight's Debate

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