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Obama, Edwards Progress Forward; Clinton Holds Own

From NBC's Chuck Todd
As I noted in a previous post, the three front-runners did nothing to lose their slot in the top tier. More importantly, no one else on stage made the case to get into the first tier. Now, the format may have hurt Dodd, Biden and Richardson since none got the amount of time that Clinton, Obama and Edwards received.

Most improved performer: Clearly Obama. He seemed much more at ease answering 60 second questions than he was during the first debate. There are still times when he "ums" too much which can give the viewer the sense that he's meandering, but that's a style point. He was clearly at ease and more comfortable than last month and looked and sounded as presidential as anyone on stage.

Strong Performer: John Edwards seemed very engaged and clearly carved out opportunities to engage Clinton and Obama. The press coverage will reflect this which the Edwards campaign will see as a victory. Bottom line, it was Edwards best debate performance to date (and I'm counting the one from this year and the ones from 2003-4). 

As for Clinton, she was good tonight but not quite as impressive as she was in the first debate. She didn't shake either Obama or Edwards. She is very good at not taking the bait but sometimes one wishes she would directly engage one of her first tier rivals. BTW, I was surprised at how much she references her husband's administration. She did it quite a bit.

The rest: Gravel was much more well-behaved. Kucinich wasn't a rabble-rouser either. Biden showed the most emotion (on the Darfur question) but he yelled and dial-testers never like yelling. Dodd is doing a great job at keeping his cool. Because the guy knows every issue up and down, that's crystal clear, but he gets very little chance to chime in. My only criticism of both Dodd and Biden: they speak in Senator-ease a tad too much. Richardson also tried to distinguish himself but seemed to fail to grab any moments.