Democrat Debate Tonight

After almost a year of a broad Democratic field fighting for time in the debates, tonight we’re going to have the first head to head debate between the last two candidates standing; Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I’ve got something of a busy day stacked up for me this afternoon, but I’m going to try and get everything set up so I can go ahead and live blog it for ya, but first, a quick preview.

What is riding on tonight’s debate is unbelievably big, and with such great gains made possible also come great risks.  That’s what’s going to make tonight’s debate tricky to predict.

On one hand, the race between the two candidates is close, and seems to be getting closer on a daily basis.  As a result either candidate could try to knock the other one out by letting the fireworks fly.  The inherent risks here are obvious though.

It is too easy to go too negative, and thus risk knocking yourself out of the race.

Thus we have two possible scenarios, one in which both sides go at it hardcore, and the other being where they both play nice nice and essentially rely on their campaign stops, grassroots support, and state by state organizations to make up ground on Super Tuesday.

Now, if Hillary were smart, she would back down a little.  Going aggressive doesn’t often work to her advantage, and while doing so might excite her dyed in the whool supporters, this is not a big enough benefit to risk turning other people off.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a situation where Hillary Clinton wouldn’t go into attack mode if baited enough, which, to be totally honest, isn’t that much at all as we have seen over the past few months.

As for Obama, the dynamic is a little different.  One thing that some of his supporters, and those voters who are contemplating him are worried about is if he has ENOUGH fight in him.  Folks who have been wanting or actively have been supporting Obama have regularly complained that he doesn’t hit hard enough.

As a result, he’s going to have to go on offense at least a little bit.  Still, he needs to focus on not overdoing it; for a lot of voters this is the first real look they may have of the guy, and the first impression that he leaves does not need to be someone who likes to beat up girls (an attack that will likely be dressed up and trotted out by Hillary supporters no matter what Obama does.  Still, it’s not the wisest thing to help them too much in their attacks).

Obama needs to be aggressive, but not overdo it, and he needs to succinctly and stiffly defend himself from the attacks that are inevitable to come from Clinton.  He could play it safe tonight, but he’s the underdog, needs the help, and needs to prove to voters that he’s not, politically speaking, a pushover.

Given the tone of his recent stump speech, however, it looks like he’s just about in the right zone to get the job done, but we all know there is a considerable disparity between the way he performs in a speech and how he performs in the debate.

On the upside, his debate performance has increased considerably over the past year, and the more open format the candidates should have tonight means that Obama can allow his answers to go beyond a strictly defined time limit (though he shouldn’t do this much).

All in all, I think it’s going to be a helluva debate tonight with the potential to really swing the momentum one way or another but if both candidates are at top form and avoid the all dreaded gaffe, this one may not necessarily have a big bearing on what goes on.

We’ll see in a few hours.  Hope to see you there.

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