Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama stepped back from a controversy over race Monday night, agreeing that a prolonged clash over civil rights could harm their party's overall drive to win the White House.

Obama was the first to suggest a cooling of the rhetoric on race, calling reporters together to say he didn't want the campaign "to degenerate into so much tit-for-tat, back-and-forth that we lose sight of why all of us are doing this."

Referring to Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards, he said that while they may have disagreements, "we share the same goals. We're all Democrats, we all believe in civil rights, we all believe in equal rights."

Clinton's campaign issued a statement in the same vein about an hour after Obama spoke, saying it was time to seek common ground. "And in that spirit, let's come together, because I want more than anything else to ensure that our family stays together on the front lines of the struggle to expand rights for all Americans," she said.

Strikingly, though, one of Clinton's supporters, New York Rep. Charles Rangel, was sharply critical of Obama in an interview during the day. "How race got into this thing is because Obama said 'race,"' Rangel, the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, said on television station NY1.