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Democrats Spar in Philadelphia

City of Brotherly Love welcomes presidential hopefuls

By John Foran and Jack Greenberg | null null , null
Senator Barack Obama shakes hands with Senator Hillary Clinton, at the conclusion of their debate at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, April 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Senator Barack Obama shakes hands with Senator Hillary Clinton, at the conclusion of their debate at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, April 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

As the Democratic debate began in Philadelphia Wednesday night, Senator Hillary Clinton noted that this was the city "where our Founders determined that the promise of America would be available for future generations."

"I am here," she added, "as is Senator Obama. Neither of us [was] included in those original documents. But in a very real sense, we demonstrate that that promise of America is alive and well."

Clinton, who represents New York in the U.S. Senate, went on to say that many Americans are deeply worried. A failing economy, war in Iraq, and out-of-control health care costs are among their concerns.

Senator Obama of Illinois agreed that Americans want a leader who can help solve their problems. "People are frustrated," he said. "They don't feel like they're being listened to."

For two hours, Obama and Clinton squared off at the National Constitution Center, in the heart of the city. Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, the two moderators from ABC News, grilled them on topics ranging from the war to taxes and gun control.

The two candidates have been campaigning for 15 months. But this was their first debate since February 26. Clinton currently trails Obama in the pledged delegate count by 139. The Pennsylvania primary, scheduled for April 22, is considered a must-win for her.

Showdown of Supporters

Before the debate, the atmosphere inside the Constitution Center was calm, as members of the press prepared to report on the much-anticipated exchange. But outside, behind barricades, the mood was hardly tranquil. Supporters of both candidates expressed their views loudly and in large numbers as police helicopters hovered overhead. 

Clinton and Obama supporters outside the National Constitution Center
Clinton and Obama supporters outside the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 16, 2008. (Photo by Suzanne McCabe.)

Judging from the hundreds of signs and posters, Clinton fans seemed to outnumber Obama supporters. But, said Maria Norman of Philadelphia, "There are definitely a lot of Obama supporters out here."

When asked why she was backing Obama, Norman told Scholastic News Online, "He has great ideas for this country."

Maria Backalbalik, 11, of nearby Winwood also likes Obama. "He really talks to me," she said. "He speaks to everybody. It makes me feel great."

Senator Clinton's supporters were equally passionate. "I think that [Clinton] would be a great first woman President," said Jamie Murphy, 12, of Philadelphia. "She has a lot more experience than Obama." One man said that he hadn't made up his mind about whom he would support in the general election in November. When asked if he thought he would vote Democratic, he said, "I want to hear the final debates from the two final candidates to make my final decision."

The winner of the Democratic nomination will likely debate Senator John McCain. The Arizona Senator has already won enough delegates to earn the Republican nomination.

And the Winner Is . . .

After Wednesday's debate, Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign, defended the Senator's decision to stay in the race, despite calls for her to step aside.

"We have a lot more voters yet to participate in this process," he told Scholastic News Online, "and we think their voices ought to be heard."

Scholastic News Online also caught up with David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Senator Obama's campaign. We asked why Obama's presidency would be good for children.

"It starts with making sure that every child gets the kind of education they need," he said. "In the future, that's going to be more and more important."

How well did each candidate do? The answer may come Tuesday, when Pennsylvania voters go to the polls.

ELECTION 2008

Scholastic Kid Reporters are on the campaign trail. Keep up with the latest election news in this special report.

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About the Author

Jack Greenberg is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

John Foran is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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