First Take: The Debate Belongs To Obama, But The Best (And) Last Moment Belongs To Hillary

Talk about a final answer.

"She was blessed" to "give others the same opportunities that I take for granted. That's why I get up in the morning. That's what motivates me for this campaign. No matter what happens in this contest, and I am honored to be here with Barack Obama... whatever happens, we're going to be fine. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people."

Almost wistful ... acknowledging reality... but forcefully asserting her humanity ... extremely, seemingly, genuine.

And at the right time... at the end... earning one of the only standing ovations in the 40-plus hours of debates.

If this moment makes the debate for her, she will have pulled out in the end.

It was Obama's debate for most of the night. HRC needed him to stumble; he did not.

Both Obama and Clinton were under the weather, and they seemed subdued. Some new ground was broken. Clinton promised to sign a pathway to legalization for immigrants within 100 days of her inauguration, which goes farther than what she’s said before. That may make news in Texas. Both had strong answers on Cuba, but hers was better than his in terms of the general election.

At this stage, though, the debates are mostly about moments, and Obama had the second-best I think, when he rebutted Clinton’s assertion that Democrats needed to “get real” about his candidacy.

Obama’s answers were well plotted -- a veggies-to-desert pivot, first recounting empathetic encounters with hurting citizens and then saying that Washington as currently constituted couldn’t solve that problem.

Clinton’s reference to looking at YouTubes of Obama’s allegedly lifted speeches seemed a little forced. She was loudly booed when she defended her campaign’s plagiarism allegations and let go with a line that seemed far too cute for the moment.

Clinton gave strong answers on health care and on local issues, and regularly referred to local issues. She had a strong response to questions about John McCain and earmarking late in the debate. Her final answer was humble and endearing. She ended stronger than she started.

The puzzler of the night, to me, is why Clinton refused to answer a simple question that she clearly has an answer to: And that is: Is Barack Obama ready to be commander in chief? Clearly -- the answer, for Clinton, is “yes.” It’s her best argument against him. But twice she avoided it and instead recapitulated her own resume.

At this point, she has nothing to lose by making that argument. The fact that she did not suggests to me that she is thinking, already, about life as a Senator from New York supporting Barack Obama and did not want to give John McCain the soundbite that could doom Obama’s candidacy. I don’t think she’s conceded the nomination in her mind, but I do think she had two temporal audiences in mind when she answered: Democrats now and the nation in the fall.