Democratic Debate: First Take

Everyone had a good debate.

(Campaign pull-quote compilers, take note.)

But who did best? The audience is undecided Democratic caucus goers. Who stood out? Who was different? Who seemed most presidential? Who parlayed their strengths? Who gave people reasons to believe in the negative stereotypes about them?

On balance, Clinton and Edwards.... Why them, and not Obama? Because Clinton and Edwards repeatedly wove their answers into a larger argument, and Obama generally kept his answers to his answers. He did well though. No calls, Chicago. No calls.

Repeatedly, Clinton cast herself as a champion of middle class material concerns. “They feel as though they are standing on a trap door,” they said, and If you listened carefully, you heard her say that she would raise taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

Almost every other phrase out of John Edwards’s mouth contained the words “corporate power..” or “entrenched interests.” And Edwards wasn’t aggressive. He wasn’t angry Johnny. He was nice Johnny boy, although he did snip at the moderator at one point and couldn’t resist a jab at Bill Richardson.

Clinton’s opening statement was very strong and pointed.

“Everyone wants change. Some believe you get change by demanding it, and some believe you get change by hoping for it. Some believe you get change by working hard for it. That’s what I’ll do as president."

It’s a great line. But in saying this, she conceded that she was scrounging on territory claimed by Obama and Edwards. Also, Iowans don’t like lines. They like nice. Saccharine even. Pure rhetorical glucose, though, and not a sugar substitute.

Biden, Dodd, and Richardson. Exceedingly mature, gave folks on the fence about them a reason to keep liking them, but neither stood out enough to move too many votes. Richardson had some strong, early, detailed answers on balancing the budget (he thinks it’s feasible immediately, others don’t) and on budget priorities, and on education.

Biden turned a tricky question about his penchant for gaffes into a very good moment wherein
Obama personally attested to his hard work on behalf of racial justice. Iowa nice.

Say what you will about the format, the graphics, the moderator, the theme music, the staging, the stage lighting: every candidate had enough time to be strong, and every candidate was.
To the extent that it matters, Fox News’s dial group loved Edwards and not Hillary Clinton. (They also liked Obama.)

The Register’s editorial endorsement is set to drop on Sunday

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In