22 JANUARY 2008

The atmosphere seemed friendly enough as Hillary Clinton and her Democratic rival Barack Obama greeted each other with warm handshakes and smiles at a South Carolina rally on Monday. But with the race to be picked as their party's candidate for the White House heating up, the two politicians have toughened up their tactics.

A TV debate, which took place between the contenders after the march, was characterised by fierce on-air clashes.

The visibly tense former first lady reacted strongly when the Illinois senator criticised past statements by her husband, Bill Clinton. "I'm here. He's not," she emphasised.

"Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes," countered the 46-year-old senator.

There were also some light-hearted moments though in the debate ahead of so-called 'Super Tuesday' on February 5, when polls to choose presidential candidates are held in 22 states.

Asked about the famous quote which referred to Mr Clinton as the country's "first black president" for his championing of the African-American community, Mr Obama replied: "I'd have to investigate Bill's dancing abilities… before I accurately judge whether, in fact, he was a brother."

"I am sure that can be arranged," quipped 60-year-old Hillary to general laughter.

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Earlier in the day the Democratic party rivals were keen to keep things cordial at a rally organised by African-American community leadersPhoto: © AFP
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The two candidates greeted each other warmly at a march marking a national holiday in honour of civil rights leader, Martin Luther KingPhoto: © AFP
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During a TV debate that evening it was a different story, with the candidates' body language mirroring their heated exchanges Photo: © AFP
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