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Obama and Clinton clash on health care in debate

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton clashed sharply over health care in a presidential debate on Tuesday, accusing each other of misrepresenting their plans to offer coverage for 47 million uninsured Americans.

Slideshow ( 9 images )

Clinton, hoping to blunt Obama’s growing momentum ahead of key contests next week in the big states of Ohio and Texas, went on the attack from the beginning of a debate at Cleveland State University.

“It’s been unfortunate that Senator Obama has consistently said that I would force people to have health care whether they could afford it or not,” the New York senator said.

“I have a great deal of respect for Senator Obama, but we have differences and in the last several days, some of those differences in tactics and the choices that Senator Obama’s campaign has made ...about my health care plan and my position on NAFTA have been very disturbing to me.”

Clinton has criticized campaign literature sent to Ohio voters that she said mischaracterized her health care proposal, which included mandates requiring Americans to purchase health insurance.

Obama, an Illinois senator, said Clinton has frequently misrepresented his plan, which does not include mandates and which some critics suggest could leave 15 million Americans uninsured.

Obama said he was interested in bringing the cost of health care down and making coverage more affordable, and enforcing mandates could create a burden on some low-income Americans.

But Clinton’s criticisms, he said, were part of a consistent patter of negative attacks on him.

“We haven’t whined about it because I understand that this is the nature of these campaigns,” Obama said.

The face-off was the final debate before next Tuesday’s crucial contests in Texas and Ohio. Clinton needs to win in both states to blunt the momentum of Obama, who has run off 11 straight victories in nominating contests.

(Reporting by John Whitesides, editing by Lori Santos)

To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/

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