9:55 p.m. | And Scene: Mr. Obama, again the gentleman, holds Mrs. Clinton’s chair as she gets up, as this debate concludes.
9:53 p.m. | Dream Team: By far the biggest applause of the night come when Mr. Blitzer says that many people say that the two of them look like a “dream ticket.” Would they consider running together?
Stevie Wonder pops out of his seat in excitement!
Mr. Obama: “It’s premature and presumptuous” to say who he would pick for his vice president. Pressed, he adds: “I’m sure Hillary would be on anybody’s short list.”
Mrs. Clinton? “I have to agree with everything Barack just said.” She gets big applause when she says the party will be unified in November. Then makes a boorish plug for her Web site. We’re the ones who do the plugs around here, Mr. Blitzer says.
9:46 p.m. | The Former President : Great transition, Jeanne Cummings! As long as we’re talking about kids, let’s talk about spouses.
“He has a spouse too,” Mrs. Clinton notes a little meekly.
Ms. Cummings continues, some Democrats have been concerned about Bill Clinton’s statements. If you can’t control Bill Clinton on the campaign, she asks, how will you control him in the White House?
But, she says: “I’m running for president and this is my campaign.” Big supportive applause for that answer, and for Bill Clinton, whom many of them love.
9:43 p.m. | That’s Entertainment: There are lots of actors, directors and producers in the audience, and we want to know: is there too much sex and violence from Hollywood? Lots of celebrity cutaways during this question.
Mr. Obama says he rejects the notion of censorship, at which point the camera focuses on Steven Spielberg (who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton). But he adds that he has two young daughters and is concerned about what they see on television.
9:40 p.m. | Commercial Break : This is a very substantive debate and you don’t want to be missing much in these exchanges. Transcript
9:30 p.m. | More on Iraq: On her vote to allow inspectors into Iraq, which led to the invasion, Mrs. Clinton makes the whole thing sound procedural. But she says that if she knew then what she knows now, she would not have given President Bush the authority to go in. Big applause from this California crowd.
Mr. Obama says it’s easier for Democrats to win the argument if we nominate someone who can say we always thought going into Iraq was a bad idea, that it was “a conceptually flawed mission from the start.”
Mr. Blitzer asks why Mrs. Clinton can’t just say her vote was a mistake? She doesn’t address that directly. But does note that she thought that putting inspectors back in was a credible idea. “I believe in coercive diplomacy,” she says. And notes that no one appreciated how “obsessed” Mr. Bush was with this particular mission.
So, Mr. Blitzer says, you’re saying you were naïve?
No, good try, Wolf, she says. Hoots from the audience, which seemed to resent Mr. Blitzer for trying to nail her.
9:25 p.m. | Iraq: On Iraq, is Mrs. Clinton’s position on withdrawal really an open-ended commitment? She “hopes” we’ll have “nearly all” troops out within a year, but cautions that we have to worry not only about bringing out troops and equipment, but 100,000 American civilians who are there and the Iraqis who have been on our side. Bush plans to leave 130,000 troops in Iraq as he exits, which is “irresponsible,” she says.
Mr. Obama says we need to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. He says it’s important to set a date for withdrawal, but says he agrees with Mrs. Clinton on protecting our embassy, Iraqi civilians and having a strike force to take out potential terrorist bases. But, he says, don’t get “mission creep.”
Mrs. Clinton, says Mr. Blitzer, that’s a clear swipe at you.
“Really?” she responds, sweetly but sarcastically. “We’re having a wonderful time.” She keeps the focus on Mr. Bush.
9:15 p.m. | Bush-Clinton-Bush… Here comes the dynasty question. How can you be an agent of change, Mrs. Clinton is asked, when we’ve had the same families in the White House for so many years?
“I want to be judged on my own merits,” she says, adding that she doesn’t want to be “advantaged or disadvantaged” because of you-know-who.
9:07 p.m. | Kennedys: The candidates are asked about Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s endorsement of Mr. Obama? Mrs. Clinton deflects the question, pointing out she also has Kennedy family support — Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, for one is supporting Mrs. Clinton. She then moves to idea that having “the first woman president” would be a huge change,
9:06 p.m. | Mitt Mentioned: Funny moment, at the expense of Mitt Romney, who could be the Republican nominee. He ran a business, and neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama has been a C.E.O., Mr. Blitzer asks, How do you counter that?
Mrs. Clinton: We tried running the country with a CEO and look what we’ve got.
Mr. Obama: Mitt hasn’t got a good return on his investment during this campaign.
9:04 p.m. | Are You Experienced? Does Mrs. Clinton have more experience, is she better prepared?
Mr. Obama cites his ability to bring people together, overcome special interests and talk “straight.” She has a “terrific” record, he says, but he has the skills needed “right now.”
Mrs. Clinton says she had “a great deal of responsibility” during her eight years in the White House.
8:46 p.m. | Flashback: Mrs. Clinton suddenly seems to drop her usual guard and gets very passionate about immigration, saying she understands the anxiety that people have told her about in town hall meetings. Well then, if you’re so passionate, asks Wolf Blitzer, why not allow immigrants to get licenses? Flashback to a debate in November when Mrs. Clinton was questioned about Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York’s plan to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, Mrs. Clinton at first seemed to defend it, then suggested she was against it.
Mrs. Clinton says she wanted to support her governor, but she was personally against the plan (Governor Spitzer later dropped the proposal.)
Mr. Obama says that during that November debate, Mrs. Clinton gave a number of different answers and that appeared political, but in fairness, he says, at this point she does have an answer. He says he’s only trying to point out that this is a difficult political issue.
They are both on their best behavior, trying to point out differences, without sounding petty, sniping, or angry, reflecting how much is at stake here before half the states vote on Tuesday….
And we fade to the first commercial break we get celebrities! (what is this, an awards show?).
8:43 p.m. | On Immigration: The candidates are asked, how is immigration hurt inner-city blacks in terms of unemployment and lower wages?
Mr. Obama: To suggest that inner city problems are attributable to immigrants is “a case of scapegoating.”
Mrs. Clinton is asked about drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants, which she opposes and Mr. Obama favors (and which got her into trouble a few debates back). But first she goes to the same question asked of Mr. Obama about the impact of immigration on blacks, and she disagrees. “There are job losses,” she says, noting that people have been pushed out of plants and factories (and mills?).
Oh, and drivers’ licenses? If you give immigrants drivers’ licenses, “you further undermine the labor market.”
Mr. Obama on drivers’ licenses: I don’t think we’ll have to deal with this if we deal with immigration. People don’t come here to drive, he says, they come to work.
8:33 p.m. | The Health Care Debate Will Be Televised? After Mr. Obama says his health care plan would be drafted in the open, on C-Span, Wolf asks if that’s a “swipe” at Mrs. Clinton because when she was first lady, she tried to come up with a health-care plan in secret. (And in an earlier debate, Mr. Obama had criticized her for just that.) No, says Mr. Obama. Wolf Blitzer asks Mrs. Clinton about drafting her plan in secret. She explained how complicated it would be to have hearings on health-care on C-Span. But she’s clearly on her turf here with health care.
8:28 p.m. | Say You, Say Me: Mr. Obama’s response: Subsidies won’t be sufficient. And he doesn’t want just to cap premiums, he wants to lower them. He notes that Ted Kennedy endorsed him; Mr. Kennedy is, of course, a giant voice in the health care arena. That seems to be his strongest argument. He has to underscore this point: “Anybody in America who needs health care is going to get it.”
8:22 p.m. | Health Care: Mr. Obama, why is your health care plan better if you don’t cover 15 million people? He says it’s not that they don’t want it, they just can’t afford it, and by the way, he doesn’t agree that there will be 15 million who won’t get it. He says she won’t say how to enforce her plan’s mandates, which is something that states like Massachusetts have had trouble doing. “If they cannot afford it, then the question is, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to fine them? Are you going to garnish their wages?” he said.
She says, “This is the passionate cause of my public service,” adopting Mr. Edwards’s language, and also references her husband’s administration, an indication that she still thinks Mr. Clinton is an asset. She says she will make health care affordable by providing subsidies and capping premiums. He’s not against mandatory provisions, she says, he just thinks it’s not politically feasible. If you don’t start with the big goal of universal care she says, “you will be nibbled to death.” Civil so far.
8:18 p.m. | More on Differences: Mr. Obama says they largely agree on health care, but he wouldn’t “force” people to buy it; he says if we can make health care affordable, everyone would buy it. He has also offered a $10-billion foreclosure prevention fund but would not freeze interest rates, which he says would actually increase those rates. He wants tougher rules against lobbyists (just like John Edwards did). Then he pulls out his trump card, or what started out as his trump card: “I was opposed to Iraq from the start.” She sips some water.
8:13 p.m. | Differences: Mrs. Clinton is asked to enumerate their policy differences. She refers again to Mr. Edwards. They do share a desire for “universal” health care. She wants to freeze interest rates for five years. (Mr. Obama is taking notes.) She refers to an earlier statement by Mr. Obama, saying she would not jeopardize the prestige of the presidency by meeting with leaders of rogue state in her first year in office.
8:09 p.m. | Really, We’re Pals: Mr. Obama starts off with a play for the supporters of John Edwards, who dropped out of the race yesterday. He gets a big round of applause. And he says, “One of us two will end up being the next president of the United States of America,” which also wins big applause. And in case you didn’t get that he was not snubbing her at the State of the Union, he says he was friends with Hillary Clinton before the race started and he will be when it’s over, but they are running “a competitive race.” Hmmm, that means he could go either way during this debate.
Mrs. Clinton, too, says the next president will be either her or “Barack.” But the next president will face a stack of problems, she says, and says we need a president who is ready to start on “Day One.” She also thanks Mr. Edwards and goes Mr. Obama a couple of steps further _ she thanks his popular wife, Elizabeth, and makes explicit Mr. Edwards’s pitch about 37 million people who still live below the poverty line.
8:05 p.m. | Alone at Last: The stage does look a little bare without those other candidates. But this is historic. It means that the Democratic nominee will either be a woman or an African-American.
Mr. Obama reaches behind Mrs. Clinton’s back in a gentlemanly fashion and guides her to seat. This gesture seems to say, no, no, no, he didn’t snub her the other night at the State of the Union.
8:01 p.m. | And the Nominees Are … Well, it’s not Billy Crystal. But CNN knows how to milk a moment. Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, brings out the contenders. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama stroll out and start applauding the audience. And boy, are they chatty and friendly with each other. The crowd is going berserk.
7:48 p.m. | Just the Two of Us: It’s pandemonium in Los Angeles, and we can hear it all the way back in New York.
The crowds are going wild. No, it’s not the Oscars. It’s sheer excitement over the Democratic primary and tonight’s upcoming debate — the first to feature just Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama.
It’s the only time they will meet before Tuesday’s big national bake-off, known variously around your TV dial as “Super Duper Tuesday” or “Monster Tuesday.”
“This debate is so hot, we’re getting more requests for tickets than the Oscars are getting,” Bob Mulholland, chairman of the California Democratic Party, told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
And this is your opportunity to watch it with us.
The show starts at 8 p.m. on CNN and we’ll be live-blogging it, blow by blow. Come back early and often.
TRANSCRIPT OF THE DEMOCRATIC DEBATE IN LOS ANGELES:
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