Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Final Clash?

Ten months after the first Democratic presidential debate, what could be the final debate occurred, in what could be final contested state for the Democratic nomination.

Yes, this is the year of the ultimate qualifier. "Could be", "if" and "possible" are used much more often in political journalism now than just two months ago. But if Hillary Clinton is to make a comeback in this race, next Tuesday could be her last stand. This Tuesday's debate was one of her final big chances to change the O-mentum.

Clinton proved herself to be a scrappy fighter. Obama showed himself cool and calm as the new frontrunner. Most called it a draw. But if Clinton battles to a draw on Tuesday, say winning Ohio but losing Texas, can her campaign realistically solider forward?

Before we can answer that question, we should focus on what was accomplished on what might have been the final clash between two Democratic titans:

NBC's Chuck Todd called the entire debate "tense." He viewed Obama as more vulnerable, and Clinton as ready for a fight. "Hard to pick a winner . . . Clinton was more prepared, but Obama survived," Todd concluded.

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder gave it to Clinton on substance and Obama on style. Ambinder said Obama hedged too much, on public financing and Louis Farrakhan's endorsement. But Ambinder also noted Obama as more upbeat, and Clinton as remorseful. He concluded they fought to a draw.

Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post said for "good or bad," Clinton dominated much of the debate. "Neither scored a knockout or a knockdown," Cillizza wrote. Edge: Obama.

From Farrakhan, to presidential experience to health care, Time's Jay Carney believes Clinton missed opportunities to make a strong case against Obama on substance. Time's Joe Klein put it simply: "He won." "He not only won by not losing, but he also won on points--and on demeanor, and on quickness, if not quite substance," Klein said.

But maybe a friend's text message post-debate summed up best where this race stands. "This whole thing is starting to fizzle," he wrote. "If you don't know who you want by now, you've got a problem. The Dems need to move on toward the general."

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