Hillary Clinton went into Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas as the solid frontrunner, and nothing that transpired on stage last night is likely to change her status. Given the pitched battles waged between the top three campaigns since the last debate in Philadelphia, it was no surprise to see the explosion of kinetic energy on display during the initial moments of the debate.
Clinton was much less defensive this time, however, quickly hitting Barack Obama and John Edwards with their own records on healthcare and social security. While Clinton’s early “mudslinging/Republican playbook” riposte struck me as a preplanned retort, it nonetheless dissipated the highly charged atmosphere, and the debate subsequently settled down into a more predictable pattern of exchanges.
Obama’s performance must have been frustrating for his campaign. While he is capable of delivering a good stem-winder on the campaign trail, Obama’s debate performances continue to be really uneven. His inability to articulate a clear position on the drivers license/illegal immigrant issue was absolutely stunning (in comparison to Clinton’s simple “no”), given the role it played in Clinton’s undoing in the Philadelphia debate.
In contrast, John Edward continued to do what he does best, which is to frame the choice between candidates in stark trial lawyer terms. His rhetoric on Clinton’s place among corporate Democrats and Republicans was some of his strongest yet. Still, my sense is that Edwards did not get the kind of traction in this debate that he enjoyed during the previous one.
Finally, as I turned off the television last night, it occurred to me that perhaps it is a good thing that the time to vote is fast approaching. As much as these debates feed the political junkie in me, I am not sure that there is much more insight to be gained from them. They may provide some additional plot elements for the nomination contest’s twisting political narrative, but more debates are not likely to break any significant new ground in the final month of the campaign.
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