(CNN) – Maybe it’s the heat. The top Democratic candidates engaged in some of the sharpest exchanges yet of the presidential debate season Tuesday night in an outdoor forum in Chicago.
The AFL-CIO forum, televised on MSNBC, took place outdoors in steamy Soldier Field in front of thousands of union members.
Frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who faced strong criticism in recent days from Barack Obama and John Edwards, said in the first hour of the debate, “I’m just taking it all in. I’ve noticed in the last few days a lot of the other campaigns have been using my name a lot.” But she said the goal is not to get in fights with Democrats. I want the Democrats to win. And I want a united Democratic Party that will stand against the Republicans. And I will say that, for 15 years, I have stood up against the right-wing machine. And I've come out stronger. So if you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I'm your girl.”
But Clinton continued her attack of Obama on his foreign policy, including his comments he would take action against terror suspects inside Pakistan. She said, “Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals and it may well be that the strategy that we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence - but, remember, we've had some real difficult experiences with actionable intelligence - might lead to a certain action. But I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that, and to destabilize the Musharraf regime which is fighting for its life against the Islamist extremists who are in bed with Al Qaeda and Taliban .And remember: Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is to have Al Qaeda-like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons.” Clinton said, “you can think big, but remember you shouldn't always say everything you think if you're running for president, because it has consequences across the world. And we don't need that right now”.
But Obama, who also drew fire from Senator Christopher Dodd over the Pakistan issue struck back, saying, “I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism.”
And drawing on a new line of attack he used against Clinton for not representing change, Obama said, “we're debating the most important foreign policy issues that we face, and the American people have the right to know. It is not just Washington insiders that are part of the debate that has to take place with respect to how we're going to shift our foreign policy.”
– CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk