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Clinton Goes for Broke, Obama Holds Steady

Clinton fights for her political future while debating Obama in Texas.
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Bill Clinton acknowledged a stark reality about the future of Hillary Clinton's campaign at an appearance this week in Texas: "If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she'll be the nominee. If you Texas voters don't deliver for her, I don't think she can."

That pressure became apparent last night while Clinton debated fellow senator Barack Obama in Austin, Texas. Clinton has 12 days and one other debate to convince voters in Texas and Ohio she deserves their vote -- or she's finished.

The watershed moment in the debate, similar to the last debate, turned on the discussion of health care mandates. Clinton invoked former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who passed Social Security, and Lyndon B. Johnson, who passed Medicare. Both social contracts have been possible because they were mandated.

Clinton also pointed out that Obama criticizes the mandates and penalties in her health care plan, when his plan contains the very same things.

My piece from a few weeks ago covers the details.

Clinton may or may not have stumbled with her next attack. This week, her campaign accused Obama of plagiarizing his friend and national campaign co-chairman, Gov. Deval Patrick (D., Mass.). In the debate, Obama downplayed the attacks as typical Washington politics, saying the race has moved into "the silly season."

Clinton countered that if you run on words, "then those words should be your own," which her supporters in the audience greeted with cheers. She continued by calling Obama's message "change you can Xerox," which the crowd booed.

I don't know whether the plagiarism attack will work. The media has for the most part accepted Obama's explanation: that Patrick suggested he use the phrases. But authenticity is central to Obama's campaign -- Patrick isn't the one running for president. Furthermore, many have called Obama a once-in-a-lifetime leader. His wife recently said: "For the first time in my adult life, I feel proud of my country." That is a heavy burden to carry.

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It is reasonable for voters to question whether a candidate is real or merely full of rhetoric. In this case, we have found out that Obama appropriated the phrases of a friend without attributing them. Will voters care?

In the debate, Obama recovered swiftly by returning to a topic where he has true authenticity: Iraq. Obama spoke out against going to war in Iraq in 2002, calling it a "dumb war." He believes this long-standing opposition to the war will help his case against Republican John McCain, who, like Clinton, supported the war.

Obama's stance on the war has scored well with Democrats. I'm not certain Americans will care as much about where the candidates stood on going to Iraq as they do about getting our soldiers out of Iraq once we reach a general election.

The race looks good now for Obama, who's riding momentum from 11 primary victories since Super Tuesday. At this point, Obama just has to stay on track and continue whittling away Clinton's support from Latinos, low-income voters and women. Accordingly, he stayed on a safe course for most of the debate.

Both Democratic candidates spent a considerable portion of the debate discussing immigration and border security. They both favor comprehensive immigration reform that includes securing our borders, while also offering a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

The good news for Democrats is they have a consistent message on immigration. McCain had to backtrack on his support for immigration reform. He no longer supports any comprehensive reform plan before securing the borders.

Democrats have softened their stance on creating a border fence. Though Clinton and Obama voted in favor of a border fence in 2006, during the debate they hedged about continuing construction. McCain will use this waffling to reinforce his position on security.

Nevertheless, Clinton made a clear appeal to her voting constituencies when she responded to a question on immigration raids. She blasted the raids that have happened during the Bush administration because of the toll they take on families. Many raids occur at random, facing deportation without regard to the children left behind, often resulting in broken families.

Both Clinton and Obama performed well in the debate. But more and more, it appears Obama will be the nominee to represent the Democrats in the general election. Unless -- and it's a big unless -- Clinton's charge of plagiarism can eclipse Obama's bright star.