Tempers Flare in Democratic Debate

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina -- Barack Obama began speaking out more aggressively against his rival Hillary Clinton in a heated debate, as the Democratic presidential race grew increasingly combative ahead of the pivotal South Carolina primary.

Republican White House candidates, meanwhile, were focused on Florida, where former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has pinned hopes for his candidacy after ignoring previous primaries. His three main rivals split the spoils in contests that netted three different winners in six states, leaving the race wide open.

The Democrats' debate Monday night quickly devolved into an angry exchange between Clinton and Obama.

Obama told the former first lady that he was helping unemployed workers on the streets of Chicago when "you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart."

Moments later, Clinton said she was fighting against misguided Republican policies "when you were practicing law and representing your contributor ... in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago."

Obama seemed particularly irritated at Hillary Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, whom the Illinois senator accused in absentia of uttering a series of distortions to aid his wife's presidential effort.

"I'm here. He's not," she snapped.

"Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes," Obama countered.

The two rivals, joined by former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, debated at close quarters five days before the South Carolina primary -- and 15 days before the equivalent of a nationwide primary across 22 states that will go a long way toward settling the battle for the party's nomination.

Clinton was the national front-runner for months in the race, but Obama won the kick-off Iowa caucuses three weeks ago, knocking her off-stride.

She recovered quickly, winning the New Hampshire primary in an upset, and on Saturday won the popular vote in the Nevada caucuses while Obama won one more delegate to the party's presidential nominating convention.