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The Tough Questions...Courtesy of Russert

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After a spirited back and forth between Obama and Clinton for much of the first hour of the debate, co-moderator Tim Russert has unveiled his trademark tough questions to put each of the candidates through the ringer.

Clinton was asked about whether or not she would release her tax returns (after Russert reminded viewers that she recently made a $5 million loan to the campaign) before the general election and whether she would push for the release of her papers from her eight years as first lady.

On the tax return question, Clinton promised she would release them when she became the nominee or perhaps sooner -- in keeping with the tradition of past campaigns.

As for the release of the White House documents, Clinton reiterated her assertion that she is pushing for the papers to be released as soon as possible. "I have urged that the process be as quick as possible," she said.

For Obama, the tough questioning by Russert centered on the endorsement of the Illinois senator by Louis Farrakhan -- the controversial head of the Nation of Islam.

"I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-semitic comments," said Obama. "I did not solicit this support."

Pressed by Russert to reject the support of Farrakhan, Obama repeated his denunciation. Clinton sought to take advantage by noting that in her 2000 Senate campaign she rejected the support of the Independence Party due to their anti-Semitic leanings, arguing that "there is a difference between denouncing and rejecting."

Obama tactfully "conceded the point" by saying he both denounced and rejected Farrakhan's endorsement.

The audience signaled its pleasure with his response, and the moderators took the opportunity to go to break.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 26, 2008; 10:22 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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