Democratic Debate Final Analysis: Don’t Believe The Hype/Spin

Last night, seven of the Democratic presidential contenders met in Las Vegas, Nevada for yet another debate, this one hosted by CNN which I read somewhere could be aptly called the “Clinton News Network”. In other words, if the CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer and his little elves asking the question weren’t trying to trip the Dems up with some rather distasteful questioning, they were trying to save Hillary’s ass.

But before we get into it, I did want to mention we had another liveblogging event as we try to do for most debates, and it turned out great, we had some guests that stopped by and joined us. So along with thanking my co-blogger, Mick who helped out with the running commentary, I wanted to thank Dynamic who joined us from Nocturnal Commissions (note, not a politblog), and Terry who does some great work for the (obviously) Obamacentric blog, Postively Barack. Thanks to everyone who joined in.

The story going into last night was all about Hillary, or, to be a little more fair, the big three. Could Hillary fight back, or would either Obama or Edwards be able to make even more progress on the back of what has occurred over the past couple of weeks. If you’re a Hillary supporter, the stars were ready to line up for you whether you knew it or not.

It didn’t hurt that the debate took place in Las Vegas, Hillary country. But, as one thing became pretty clear, CNN was looking to help rebuild the narrative that Hillary was unstoppable. That would continue on in their post game coverage and analysis. Likewise, ABC is giving the nod to Clinton as well, not to mention FDL’s Scarecrow, but that’s not much of a shocker there.

Even the NYT seems ready to give the W to Hillary Clinton,which I guess would be appropriate in more was than one.

So what’s the deal? Are they right or wrong? Did Hillary Clinton redeem herself? Did Edwards and Obama fall flat? Is it even worth talking about the other candidates anymore?

That last question is pretty easy; the answer would be “no”. Perhaps the one thing CNN did right last night was to bar former Senator Gravel from the proceedings, and I’m going to take up where they left off by pretending Kucinich, Biden, Dodd, and Richardson weren’t even there. Nothing personal, it’s just that by now even acknowledging them is kind of wasting space.

As for the other questions. It should be said that yes, Hillary did have a much better night than she had two weeks ago, but it is important to understand that that is not a particularly high standard to meet there. This is what we talk about when we talk about winning the game of low expectations. Coming out of that last debate, all Clinton had to do to avoid being panned as a loser was not go psychotic and start screaming hysterically on stage. She didn’t do that, so well done.

But that is not to say that she had a particularly good night either, she still met with some pretty effective attacks all around, and she didn’t necessarily weather them all that well either.

Early on, however, the frontrunner looked to be ready to dominate the field.

This exchange, which I would have to call a tie as a result to Wolf Blitzer cutting it off before any kind of resolution could be reached, showed Clinton ready to finally get in the trenches and throw some blows. For those like me who support Obama (or at least are very much against Hillary’s run), this early exchange was the kind of thing that makes you go all hurgly gurgly inside. Substantively or not, Hillary managed to deflect most attacks adeptly, and about halfway through CNN tossed her the kind of softball that you can tell she had been looking for all night.

They asked her about playing the gender card, and as Mick pointed out during our liveblogging, there really wasn’t much of a way to deliver a better answer. Speaking of the attacks against her, she acknowledged that they weren’t because she was a woman but because, “I’m (pause) ahead!” The largely Hillary friendly crowd went nuts, and at that point, had the debate ended right then and there, it would have been about as clear of a win for Hillary as one could get.

But it didn’t end there, and the following video is what I think snatches the win from Hillary and gives it to Obama who delivered one of the best attacks all night and delivered it well on both style and substance.

Okay, so I want to kill him for saying cut when he meant increase, but aside from that (and you really have to be one hell of a nitpick to not know what he was talking about there), this was about as flawless of an attack that Hillary failed to defend herself on as you can get. What’s more, he caught Hillary Clinton in classic Gopper talk, that is, trying to defend her opposition to a tax hike by erroneously claiming to protect the middle class. The throwing in of Mitt and Rudy in the haymaker was just a nice touch.

Now some have said that the crowd boos, but I think when you take a look at it, they are laughing and the boos are really, “ooh”, you know, like when you’re watching a fight and someone takes one hard on the chin, which is essentially what happened right here.

But this allows me to turn the focus from Hillary to Barack. I think Andrew Sullivan is pretty close on his sum up of Barack’s performance:

Obama was a solid B+, started strongly and then petered out. He blew the illegal drivers’ license question and the polarization question. He really is uneven in these things. He didn’t suck, but, at this point, he needs to keep the A grades coming to keep pressure on you-know-who. Alas, I think he just trod water.

I will say that while I agree with the grade, I will give Obama a little more credit. For the most part he was clear and concise, and he gave some particularly great answers on trade with China, Social Security, and Iran. He managed to stay on message, and provide some good offensive against Hillary. He still is, as Sullivan points out, not at his best in the debate element, but what I think you’ll find by watching the actual debate is that he did better than what many will give him credit for, though probably not as well as he should have done to keep capitalizing on Clinton’s struggles over the past few weeks.

As for John Edwards, I couldn’t disagree with Sullivan more. While he managed to hit the right notes on both offense and substance, it just seemed flat and unimportant. Edwards kind of started to turn into the invisible man after a while and failed to make much of an impression. I don’t know, it may be because I’ve gotten desensitized to his attacks, but there you go.

All in all, there were some fireworks, and you’re going to see at least some of the questions about the Hillary campaign start to ebb. But at the same time I think a strong showing by Obama and a less than advertised performance by Clinton will have the combined effect of not restoring that air of invulnerability to her campaign. She’s still open, she can still be taken down.

One Response to “Democratic Debate Final Analysis: Don’t Believe The Hype/Spin”

  1. Dynamic says:

    Was a great time, I always enjoy the blog. 🙂


  1. Debate Analysis: Winners and Losers from the Field » Comments from Left Field - [...] who made the strongest case for his/her own side. For that kind of analysis, you can read Kyle’s post…

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