Tonight, Edwards and Clinton stood out against the mosaic.

Edwards was Edwards on Centrum Silver: straightforward, confident, clear, knowledgeable, thoroughly encased in his own frame. Ying to the yang of both Obama and Clinton; If you’re new to nomination politics, then you’d think Edwards – and not Obama – was Hillary Clinton’s main foil. The war. Social Security. Health care. Campaign ethics. Clinton didn't take the punch, but she did move to dodge them, which is a victory for JRE.

Clinton: She was arguably evasive on questions about Iran, Israel and nuclear weapons and on the options she’d consider to solve the Social Security short fall. She doesn’t want to give up her national security strategy or her presidential negotiating positions, but her opponents can exploit her refusal to be specific. These are presidential answers; they’re not campaign answers. Clinton was solid; she was not commanding, in part because she was forced on the defensive more tonight than in previous debates. She was thorough and careful, came off as intelligent and prudent, and really didn’t take a nick tonight. She did unleash the night’s best jab, and she displayed a genuine sense of humor, one that the audience seemed to appreciate and acknowledge.

Obama was Obama: collected, thoughtful, ready to make distinctions but unwilling to be ham-handed. Not so loquacious. A very serene presence tonight. At one point, Obama wielded a knife, chastising Clinton repeatedly for the secrecy which surrounded her 1993 health care effort, but the knife was blunt and its application was almost ninja-like.

Richardson was more animated than usual and seemed to have more time speaking.

Biden was talented, smart and amusing and blasted Rudy Giuliani, memorably.

Chris Dodd had no memorable moments.

The best answer of the night: one very prominent Republican said that Clinton gave it, when disagreeing with husband about a torture scenario – would she allow it if Al Q’s number three promised to reveal the location of a nuclear bomb.

Russert was sly, positing the scenario without identifying the author. Clinton took the bait. Russert revealed that the positor was William Jefferson Clinton. So “you disagree?” Russert asked. “Well he’s not standing here right now.”

Russert: “ So there is a disagreement?”

Clinton: “ Well, I’ll talk to him later.”

This Republican told me: “Best answer of the night. Smart and strong.”

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