(CNN) - Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton opened Thursday night's Democratic debate in Las Vegas by joking that she was wearing an asbestos pantsuit. She needed it right out of the gate, as leading rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards turned their fire on her with their first answers.
Obama called the former first lady-turned-New York senator "a capable politician" who has run a "terrific" campaign - "But what the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions, and that is not what we've seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues."
Clinton shot back by citing her experience pushing for universal health care, accusing Obama of failing to support that goal with his own health care proposal. And she said Democrats will need a tested leader to advance their goals in 2008.
"The Republicans are not going to vacate the White House voluntarily," she said. "We have some big issues ahead of us and we need someone who is tested and ready to lead."
Edwards, meanwhile, said Clinton "continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged and corrupt." Clinton responded by accusing him of taking cues "from the Republican playbook."
"For him to be throwing this mud and making these charges, I think really detracts from what we're trying to do here tonight," she said. "we need to put forth a positive agenda for America, telling people what we're going to do."
- CNN's Matt Smith