A battle over civil rights erupted Thursday between Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and former California governor Jerry Brown in a televised debate just five days before primaries or caucuses in 11 mostly southern states.
With black voters numerous in the South, Brown lashed out at Clinton, noting he had not passed a civil-rights law despite 12 years as governor of Arkansas.The remark clearly stung Clinton, whose backers are fond of noting 80 percent of Arkansas blacks support Clinton.
"Jerry, chill out, you're from California, chill out," Clinton said. "Nobody has a better civil rights record than I have."
During the debate in Dallas, Clinton, Brown and the other two main remaining Democratic presidential hopefuls also rapped each other on campaign contributions and links to the wealthy.
Brown attacked former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas as championing "these $1,000 fund-raisers."
Tsongas responded by saying he was "not in the big leagues of money-raising."
"The fact is, I have gotten money from 22,000 people. Eighty-five percent of them contributed $115 or less," Tsongas said.
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said Brown was making an incorrect assumption that just because a candidate accepts campaign contributions from the wealthy he will ignore the needs of people with low incomes.
"For the last decade, Gov. Brown has been one of the biggest money raisers in America," Harkin said.
"And now he sits there and sort of in a self-righteous manner paints us all with one brush," said Harkin. "I sort of resent that," Harkin said.
He added that, "Yes, I have taken money from people on Wall Street," but added, it "doesn't make any difference."
"It depends on who you are and how much guts you got and whether you got the courage to stand up to people and to fight for working people."
Clinton and Tsongas, who have been leading the field of Democratic hopefuls, traded shots on economic plans.
Clinton said Tsongas was offering little more than what the Reagan-Bush presidencies have offered - big breaks for the wealthy while average workers suffer.
"That's exactly what we did in the 1980s and the economy went downhill and it's wrong," Clinton said.
"Average wages went down, the work week lengthened, poverty exploded and we lost our competitive edge," he said.
Tsongas said he was opposed to a tax cut for the middle class, saying, "I have to be the alternative."
The debate, which was taped and broadcast late Thursday, was delayed for more than an hour while the candidates argued about the ground rules.
In the end they sat around a table with only gentle guidance from the moderator, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings.
On Tuesday 11 states, with black voters forming key blocs in at least six of them, will hold presidential preference votes in the so-called "Super Tuesday" contest.
The states holding primaries or caucuses Tuesday are: Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas.
Before that, Arizona, Wyoming and Nevada hold caucuses this weekend, and South Carolina's first presidential primary takes place Saturday.