All Eyes on Obama, Clinton at President Bush's SOTU

By Josiah Ryan | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

On the Spot ( - Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) sat just a few seats away from each other at President Bush's final State of the Union Address, but they did not speak to each other or acknowledge each other all evening.

The Democratic presidential rivals were a center of attention for reporters as well as spectators at the annual event.

At one point, Clinton reached almost across Obama to greet Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) who was seated on the other side of the candidate -- and who had endorsed Obama's candidacy only hours earlier.

The candidates also had different reactions to President Bush's arrival in the chamber. As the traditional welcoming applause began, Obama clapped steadily until Bush began his speech. Clinton, however, gave a fraction of the applause, and she spent most of the welcoming period sitting quietly.

Earlier in the day, Clinton celebrated the fact that this would be President Bush's final State of the Union speech. "Tonight is a red-letter night in American history," Clinton told a crowd of supporters in North Carolina. "It is the last time George Bush will give the State of the Union!"

When President Bush declared that the troop surge is working to rid Iraq of terrorists, Clinton stood and clapped, as did some, but not all, Democrats. Obama, on the other hand, remained seated. Obama has criticized Clinton for voting to authorize the Iraq war (he insists he never would have done it), and the issue has proved contentious for both candidates on the campaign trail.

After the speech, Obama told Fox News he agrees that the troop surge has reduced the violence in Iraq. "And there's no doubt that that's a consequence of the bravery and heroism of our soldiers. What we have not seen is a successful renegotiation between the Sunni and the Shia and the Kurd that will stabilize the country over the long term. I don't think that's going to happen so long as we have an occupation there."

Obama also told Fox News he appreciated Bush's remarks on AIDS and veterans benefits, but he described Bush's economic plans as "warmed-over, cut-and-paste from the past." He suggested that President Bush is out of touch with what the American people are saying about the economy.

After the speech, President Bush went out of his way to visit the section where Clinton and Obama were seated. Bush greeted Sens. Kennedy and Obama, but Clinton did not acknowledge President Bush. Obama seemed to greet the president warmly.

Obama was seated between Kennedy and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), both of whom have endorsed him for president. After the speech, when Cybercast News Service asked Nelson how he ended up sitting next to Obama, he said it wasn't planned that way:

"We had a bit of the yin and the yang going on between Senator Kennedy and I," Nelson joked. "We don't agree on everything, but we do agree we need to reach out to the American people," he added.

Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not attend the State of the Union Address. He was campaigning in Florida, which holds its Republican primary on Tuesday.

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