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Obama/McCain at Columbia's ServiceNation: Recap
Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain took a day off from an increasingly vicious presidential campaign to talk about national service and citizenship on the seventh anniversary of the terrorists attacks of September 11.
The candidates appeared separately on stage with moderators Judy Woodruff of PBS and Richard Stengel of Time Magazine for approximately an hour each, and met briefly, and awkwardly in between, exchanging a quick hug before Sen. McCain hurried off stage.
Both candidates lamented the negative turn the campaign has taken in the last several week.
Sen. McCain placed that blame squarely at his Democratic counterparts' feet.
"First of all, this is a tough business," he said, adding that the campaign could have had a different tone, "if Sen. Obama had accepted my request to appear at town halls all over America as John Kennedy and Barry Goldwater agreed to do in 1964."
Obama, a 1983 graduate of the university, received rapturous applause from the audience of several hundred.
"I've got a slight home field advantage," he said. "This is my alma matter."
The event came a week after several Republicans mocked Obama at their convention for his work as a community organizer after college.
McCain distanced himself from such criticism.
"Of course I respect community organizers," he said. "And Sen. Obama's record in that area has been outstanding."
Obama said that he learned more as a community organizer than he did as a student at Columbia.
"It taught me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. With all due respect to the president of this university, it was the best education I ever had."
The two candidates meet last month at Saddleback Chuch in a similar setting for a discussion about moral values.
The event this evening followed a tour by both men of Ground Zero with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.