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Checking Facts from the Democratic Debate in S.C.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The economy, health care, Iraq - all were discussed during last night's Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina.

But Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent as much time getting personal as they did talking policy.

For a little help sorting fact from fiction, we've got Brooks Jackson, director of the Annenberg Political Fact Check, here in the studio.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. BROOKS JACKSON (Director, Annenberg Political Fact Check): Hello.

NORRIS: Now, perhaps the most heated exchange - I know there were several of them last night, but the most heated exchange last night began with Senator Obama on the defensive responding to charges from the Clinton camp that he had praised Republican ideas.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Ronald Reagan was a transformative political figure because he was able to get Democrats to vote against their economic interest to form a majority to push through their agenda, an agenda that I objected to because while I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shipped overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart. I was fighting these strikes.

NORRIS: Not long after that, Senator Clinton fired back with this.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): Yes, they did have ideas and they were bad ideas - bad for America. And I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.

(Soundbite of applause)

NORRIS: But from this, this question of appraising, not necessarily Republican President Ronald Reagan but his ideas on stage last night, Senator Obama fired back at Senator Clinton and said, you too have said nice things about Ronald Reagan. Is that true?

Mr. JACKSON: Right. Well, Hillary Clinton definitely has praised Ronald Reagan's political acuity, as so as Bill Clinton. But more to the point, when she says you - Obama - praise Republican ideas like privatizing Social Security, she is really misrepresenting what he told a Reno newspaper editorial board. What he said is that Republicans or the party ideas - we should become the party of ideas. He never - he said specifically he thought many of them were bad ideas.

NORRIS: And what did she say?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, Hillary Clinton is quoted by Tom Brokaw in a book that's on the stands now, quote, "he played the balance and the music beautifully." So essentially, she's praising his political abilities just as Obama was praising his political abilities.

NORRIS: And that's when the Brokaw book boom about the 1950 generation(ph).

Mr. JACKSON: Correct.

NORRIS: So Reagan and Republicans and Republican ideas aside, let's take into those personal barbs, particularly when it comes to the candidate's experience. First, Senator Clinton and that Wal-Mart charge. What did she do on the board at Wal-Mart?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, she was a board member. She was paid 18,000 a year for six years plus 1,500 a meeting; came away with maybe a hundred thousand dollars worth of Wal-Mart stocks. She says she was pushing for change. And there's New York Times story that reported on this and said, indeed, she did. Didn't accomplish all that much change. But she did push for it.

NORRIS: And that's something she talks about. She says that she was supporting the rights of women, women pushing the company to hire more women, pay them an equal wage.

Mr. JACKSON: Right. No record from what he can find that she pushed for Wal-Mart to unionize. That would be probably too much to hope for for anybody who's a trade unionist. But she did push for some change there. There's no question about that.

NORRIS: And to Senator Obama, what do we know about his dealings with this fellow named Rezko?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, this idea that he was somehow the consigliore of a slum lord is just non-sense. He did, as a young law - legal associate do work for - not for Rezko, directly, but for community housing group that was going to partner with him to put up some low-income housing. He says it was about five hours of work. I don't know if it was more or less than that.

He ran into trouble later. Rezko became a big campaign contributor. And along the way, became indicted. After which, Obama has given back at least some of that money - maybe all. I'm not quite sure.

NORRIS: Now, last night - I just want to move on to the third person who was on the stage last night - former Senator John Edwards speculated that John McCain is the likely Republican nominee. And he said that he, Senator Edwards, is better suited to stand up against McCain in a head-to-head contest. He mentioned specific polls that said that in a head-to-head contest, that he could beat John McCain. Is he right about that? Because Senator Obama is basically on the campaign showing us the same thing.

Mr. JACKSON: Well, this is something that is literally true but you really got to listen carefully. He said, in your last poll that had the three of us - and he's referring to CNN's last poll - that he was the only one - he was the one who beat McCain. And that's true - Obama tied. But that was in early December. That was the last time CNN had a poll that had all three of them in trial heats against McCain. The much more recent poll, about 10 days ago, didn't even have Edwards in it. And both Hillary and Senator Obama beat McCain handily.

NORRIS: Brooks Jackson, thanks so much for coming in to talk to us.

Mr. JACKSON: Thank you.

NORRIS: Brooks Jackson is the director of the Annenberg Political Fact Check.

One last political item to mention. Republican Fred Thompson has dropped out of the race for his party's nomination. In a statement, Thompson said he hoped the country and his party benefited from this effort. He did not endorse any of the other Republicans running for the White House.

You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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