The usual pattern of these things, in my view, is that John Edwards has done the best, and Hillary Clinton has done what she needed to do to consolidate her position as front-runner. With fewer candidates in the field, I thought the debate became much more watchable and the same basic pattern held up -- Edwards is running as a strong progressive, has a strong message, and in this format has enormous charisma. Clinton doesn't wow you, but she takes care of business. Barack Obama is clearly not at his best in this format -- he delivers great setpiece speeches and is very appealing in a small group, but doesn't quite seem sure of his tone when seated around the table.

The difference, though, is that Hillary Clinton's not the front-runner anymore in the kind of way she used to be. She wanted to use tonight to cut her opponents down to size, but while she had good answers to questions she didn't have any devastating attacks. Edwards will have done himself a lot of good if a lot of New Hampshirites stayed in tonight and watched, but presumably the press will just move back to ignoring him. Obama, now, seems to me to be the guy who did what he needed to do delivering a competent performance and not letting his main rival draw any meaningful blood.