Final Thoughts On The Debate

** The press seems to be very keen about Clinton's answer to the dictator meeting question. Whatever "presidential" means to the press -- and it seems to be mean non-pandering, serious, grave and reflective -- Clinton's answer was very "presidential." Do those Democrats who watched the debate on television agree? And did John Edwards's solid answers on health care and Obama's strong finish dilute the effect of Clinton's great moment?

** Clinton's team uses her performance in these debates to argue that she's broadly acceptable as a general election candidate. That is, their take-away is more '08 oriented than '07 oriented. She's anti-big government, not a "liberal," aware of the tough challenge of leaving Iraq, etc. The amazing thing -- so far -- is that she can say all of this and still not have her Democratic credentials questioned.

** Barack Obama moves into his comfort zone when the argument is about change; when it's about strength and experience, Clinton (and Biden) excel. Monday night, the argument was about change, and HIllary was peppered with some hard questions, and if there is a disjuncture between the press's evaluation of Obama's performance and the voters' evaluation of his performance, it can probably be attributed a larger change orientation in the Democratic primary electorate. Focus groups conducted by CNN and Frank Luntz gave Obama the win.

** At the same time, Hillary Clinton, heir to a dynasty, evoking her husband's legacy, is judged by primary voters to be an agent of change. Perhaps Obama is more of a change agent, but perhaps Hillary is enough of a change agent -- she crosses the threshold -- to make her stronger argument, which is that she knows how to be president. The irony here is that the desire for change might be so great, all the Democrats cross the threshold and Obama has to go to greater lengths to portray himself as the true change agent. Ok, that's a lot of "change agents" for one paragraph, but this question really lies at the heart of the primary right now. If the biggest story of the Dem primary race so far is Clinton's ability to overcome the Iraq problem and present herself as a change agent, the biggest worry for her team is that voters who pay attention find themselves more inclined to Obama. Maybe this is where the hidden reservoir of Bush-Clinton dynasty fatigue lives.

** To some extent, Edwards and Obama advisers are frustrated that Hillary's experience credential hasn't come under greater scrutiny. They ask the question: when she was put in charge of something, did it usually fail or succeed? What specific decisions has she made? Is there anything more to her argument than "I can put together a government?" To no avail.

** Chris Dodd and Joe Biden were heavyweights. It's frustrating to them and their advisers that they don't get more credit for the good nights they had. As one Edwards supporter put it in an e-mail: "Ok, so why is it every time I watch one of these, it takes me an hour to remember why Joe Biden wouldn't be a good president?"