Clinton and Obama, two heavyweight boxers, touched their gloves AFTER they bashed each other's head in. Edwards was part-Mills Lane, regularly separating the combatants and sending them to their corners -- and part wrestling heel, interfering at random, scoring points when the others were busy focusing on personal grievances.

The headlines will be about suppressed heat between Clinton and Obama boiling over, althohttp://38.118.71.136/cgi-bin/mt/mt.cgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=35803&blog_id=49&saved_added=1
Fertile In Myrtle | Entries | Marc Ambinder | Movable Type Enterpriseugh that moment was more entertaining and informative.



(Both Clinton and Obama's campaigns are touting the exchange, for what it's worth.)

Once that was out of their systems...

The conversation tonight was almost about all the general election; who could voters trust? who could turn the page? who best represents the Democratic Party? who could beat John McCain?

"If Sen., McCain is the Republican nominee," Sen. Clinton said, "we know that we will have a general election about national security. I believe that of any one of us, I am better position and better able to take on John McCain or any Republican when it comes to protecting our national security and promoting America's interest in the world."

Obama "fundamentally disagrees with that." The "way we are going to take on a John McCain on national security...is somebody who can serve a strong contrast who can say, we've got to overcome the politics of fear in this country. As commander in chief, all of us would have responsibility to keep American safe, what I do believe is that we have to describe a new foreign policy that says, I will meet, not just with our friends but with our enemies."

Obama called Clinton's approach "the same fearmongering they've been engaged in since 9/11."

I could write that John Edwards debated as if he had the most to gain, but he always does that. He can't resist the parenthetical aside, which often undermines or obscures his argument. For example: when arguing that he was the most electable candidate in the field, more electable in rural areas outside the major cities, he just had to look back at Obama and Clinton and mention that, boy, not only was he NOT talking about race, he kind of felt weird as a white male being forced to explicitly deny having thought about race. The truth is that Edwards, representing white, working class males, would appeal to candidates who are less comfortable voting for black or women candidates. And by insisting that race has no place in the argument, he puts race into the argument, probably unintentionally.

Obama pointed out that he performed well in non-urban areas of Nevada, and, on the issue of faith -- "I am a proud Christian, and I think there have been times where our Democratic Party did not reach out as aggressively as we could to evangelicals."

Obama spent the first forty minutes of the debate defending policy. On the one hand, the more Obama debates policy, the less he has to argue that he has the substance to match Clinton. On that same hand, the debate was also helpful to Obama in that it gave him a chance to answer a month's worth of charges from his opponents...charges he answered more or less effectively...certainly effective enough to the voter unfamiliar with the ins and outs of policy. But for the five minute period when both he and Clinton seemed disinclined to filter their facial expressions and excited utterances -- an exchange where Obama looked too hot -- his annoyance and anger overwhelmed his normal solitude, and Angry Obama is never as attractive as cool Obama. Their sound-bite-generating bandinage a wash; a tie goes to the runner, here, and if Clinton is the frontrunner, Obama is the runner, here.

Clinton and Obama had a fascinating argument about corporate lobbyists, trial lawyers and campaign finance. It probably amused John McCain.

For the second debate in a row, both Obama and Clinton went out of their way to insist that the Democratic Party is not divided by race and that the debates of the past two weeks were, political, yes, but not damaging. We will see.

So who won?

Obama really didn't have to show up, but he did -- taking nothing for granted. A passel of tough questions were posed, and he seemed to nail just about every one of them.

John Edwards is a spectacular debater, but in thinking fast, he often undermines the flow of his arguments by pointing out how great he is. Still, he more than proved that he cannot be ignored and still is a stronger candidate than the recent primary contests would suggest.

Hillary Clinton was still Unplugged. I kind of like HRC Unplugged.

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