US presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pledged Tuesday to keep race out of the Democratic Party's nomination battle, capping days of sniping between the two camps over Obama's African-American origin.
"I think what's most important is that Senator Obama and I agree completely that neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign," Clinton said during a televised debate in Las Vegas between the top Democrats.
Obama, whose appeal reaches far beyond the nation's black minority, said he did not believe that Clinton's campaign had deliberately tried to marginalize him as a candidate for African- Americans. Clinton was committed to racial equality, he said.
"Race has always been an issue in our politics and in this country." Obama said. "But one of the premises of my campaign is that we can't solve these challenges unless we can come together as a people."
Back-and-forth sniping with racial undertones began after Clinton made remarks last week that critics took as belittling slain US civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Later, a prominent black businessman who backs Clinton appeared to allude to Obama's admitted drug use as a young man.
As Obama called the former first lady's remarks on King "ill- advised," Clinton accused his campaign of distorting for political gain both her comments and criticism of Obama by her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
In Tuesday's debate, Obama said he was confident that US voters would judge him on his ability to solve the nation's problems, not his skin color.
He and Clinton both blamed overzealous members of their campaign staffs for fuelling the issue. Obama stressed that he had reminded his staffers to "make sure that we focus on the issues."
The racially tinged battle of words underscored the closeness of the race between Obama and Clinton to win their centre-left party's nomination to run for president in November. Obama, 46, would be the first African-American president; Clinton, 60, would be the first female president.
Democrats and Republicans are holding separate presidential preference votes Saturday in the state of Nevada, where Las Vegas is the largest city.
Obama proved his crossover appeal by winning the opening Democratic contest, held in the overwhelmingly white Midwestern state of Iowa. Clinton narrowly won the second poll last week in New Hampshire. ( Dpa )