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Obama Stops in N.C., Revisits Philadelphia Debate

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LYNN NEARY, host:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are both campaigning in Pennsylvania today, where the big primary is just four days away.

Yesterday, both candidates spent their days spinning Wednesday's debate. Obama said the event focused too much on trivia, while Clinton claimed the debate proved she is more electable. NPR's David Greene is traveling with the Clinton campaign, and we'll hear from him in a moment, but first Don Gonyea reports on Senator Obama's day.

DON GONYEA: Barack Obama switched gears yesterday, focusing not on Pennsylvania but on North Carolina. That state holds its primary on May 6, and early voting began there yesterday. Last night at a basketball arena in Greenville, Obama opened by talking about the huge challenges the country faces at home and overseas.

Senator Barack Obama (Democrat, Illinois): We are fighting two wars right now, one war that we have to win in Afghanistan - going after al-Qaeda and bin Laden - one war that I believe should have never been authorized and should have never been waged.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Earlier in the day, the senator held a town hall meeting in the city of Raleigh. It was there that he revisited, with some sarcasm, what had been a difficult debate the night before in Philadelphia.

Sen. OBAMA: It does not get much more fun than these debates.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: They are inspiring events.

GONYEA: He noted that it was 45 minutes into the debate before what he sees as any real, substantive issues came up: jobs, health care, Iraq. As for Senator Clinton, who accuses Obama of being out of touch and elitist for his comments about bitter, small-town voters, he says she's using, quote, gotcha campaign tactics. Obama says Clinton is in her element going negative and that she seemed to enjoy twisting the knife a little bit in the debate.

Sen. OBAMA: That's the textbook Washington game. That's how our politics has been taught to be played. That's the lesson that she learned when the Republicans were doing that same thing to her back in the 1990s.

GONYEA: During audience Q&A, it was clear that the debate was still on the minds of these voters.

Unidentified Woman: What is your strategy to defeat the Republicans in November? Last night, you were really pummeled during that debate, and I thought it was unfair, and you're right, they wasted a lot of time talking about stupid, you know, issues that don't mean much.

GONYEA: Senator Obama replied:

Sen. OBAMA: That was the roll-out of the Republican campaign against me in November. They will try to focus on all these issues that don't have anything to do with how you are paying your bills at the end of the month.

GONYEA: One man stood up and asked if Obama would be joining a debate later this month that Clinton has already agreed to. He didn't give a definitive reply, but perhaps the answer came a bit later, when a 10-year-old boy was called on to ask a question.

The boy told the candidate that he was elected student representative of his fourth-grade class. He then asked Obama for advice on how he might become president one day.

Sen. OBAMA: Cameron(ph), you are a very well-spoken young man, and I may need some tips from you because you've already won the election. I'm still out here campaigning.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Obama then asked a question:

Sen. OBAMA: How many debates did you have to have?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAMERON (Fourth-grade Student Representative): None.

Sen. OBAMA: None. That sounds good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: And for Obama on this day, it was good to be in front of a friendly crowd.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Greenville, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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