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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Politics: Thoughts on Last Night's Democratic debate

The Democrats at last night's debate in Hanover, N.H.

Last night's debate in New Hampshire, moderated by Tim Russert, showed the campaign for President shifting gears as time begins to run short for candidates who aren't Hilary Rodham Clinton. It also showed that Russert is like a nightmare combination of your most hated high school teacher crossbred with a pitbull. The conventional wisdom has been that Clinton wins these things by emerging relatively unscathed and there is some truth to that. Last night she took some scuffs but when she is focused she is still the best candidate on the stage at :
a) sounding Presidential

b) Ducking a direct question with aplomb

c) turning a hit into a plus for her.

Russert was harder on her than some of the candidates but she did survive loony Grandpa Mike Gravel's scorn ("I'm ashamed of you...") , John Edward's pursed lip simpering challenge on leaving "combat" troops in, Biden's grudging run-through of her unlikability, and Obama's barely-there criticism of her health care leadership.

She seemed to be in prime cruising mode until the last two questions. Russert brought up the Hsu fundraising ruckus which she ably parried but when he followed up with a direct question about making the funding of her husband's foundation public she seemed thrown and gave a transparently evasive answer. Yes it's Bill's foundation but doesn't she have an opinion on it? There was a more graceful way to not answer that one. The last question was a boneheaded "Yankees or Red Sox" question designed to test non-New England candidates mettle in Sox territory. She ably gave the tough answer "Yankees" but Russert had to tighten the noose and ask her a hypothetical one on a Cubs/ Yankees matchup. "Well I would probably have to alternate sides." a statement that neatly encapsulates the hesitation many Democrats have about supporting the former first lady.

Were that she had parried as well as when Russert played "Gotcha!" by reading her a pro-torture statement that she roundly rejected. The statement was by -- da DA DUMMMM! -- her husband, Russert revealed in a bit of hackneyed theatre that must have thrilled the trial lawyer in John Edwards. "Well he's not standing here right now." She said, to applause.

Edwards knows he has an uphill battle but he also knows that to keep his campaign alive he has to pull one of this non-victory second place victories a la' Clinton in New Hampshire in 1991. Last night suggested he may just do it. He put a lot of ground between himself and Clinton and was far more animated than the Illinois Senator. Still, Edwards has the demeanor of a lawyer winking at a female jury member at times. It can feel like too much, a bit shiny and contrived.

Clinton's numbers are unlikely to move much in New Hampshire out of this but I suspect that Edwards will start to challenge for second.

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