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Hillary calls for Lincoln-Douglas debates

From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli and Athena Jones
SOUTH BEND, IN -- Clinton yesterday threw a curveball in her latest pitch to get Obama to debate her before the May 6 primary here, calling for a Lincoln-Douglas style meeting that would have the two go head-to-head without a moderator.

Standing on a platform above home plate at South Bend's minor league ballpark, Clinton noted that Obama partisans "complained a little bit about the tough questions" during the April 16 debate in Philadelphia, and also "complained about the moderators." She also alleged that the Obama camp had "turned down every debate that has been offered."

"I'm offering Sen. Obama a chance to debate me one-on-one, no moderators," she said. "Just the two of us, going for 90 minutes, asking an answering questions."

She said such a meeting would be a throwback to the debates of Lincoln and Douglas in neighboring Illinois 150 years ago, when the two met seven times. She also said Indiana deserved such a forum, having "wandered in the wilderness of American politics for 40 years," the last time the state mattered in presidential primary politics. "Who knows we might even carry Indiana in the fall if we start with a good debate right here," she added.

"We've had four debates between Sen. Obama and myself -- that's all we've had since this whole campaign has gone on," she said. "I think that would be good for the Democratic Party, it would be great for democracy, and it would be great for Indiana."

Just before Clinton made that challenge, however, Obama told Fox News Sunday that he would not take part in any further debates before two-state showdown in North Carolina and Indiana on May 6.

In addition, Obama chief strategist David Axelrod gave NBC/NJ this response to Clinton's challenge. "I think if Lincoln-Douglas had debated 21 times, I don't think there would be much appetite for another Lincoln-Douglas debate."

Clinton was joined on the resplendent afternoon yesterday by Sen. Evan Bayh and former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, who handed her a South Bend Silver Hawks jersey and a baseball bat manufactured in nearby Valparaiso. Clinton, brandishing the bat in her left hand, later labored to work some baseball lingo into her opening remarks.

"We're gonna hit some of those balls out of this stadium and out of our country stadium because we're gonna go to bat and fix America together," she said. "We're gonna go fight for America, we're gonna round the bases, we're gonna score a lot of runs, and we're gonna feel really good about the home team, namely the American team -- the team we're all a part of."