One of our favorite dial testers, Rich Thau, had a group in New Hampshire of Democrats and indies. And like the CNN and Fox focus groups, his survey had Obama doing the best (in terms of improvement from pre-debate to post-debate; Obama and Edwards tied with the highest post-debate score).
We asked Thau about one specific moment -- the two answers Clinton and Obama gave to the Bush-Clinton fatigue question. Thau tells First Read: "Clinton spiked to 80 on first sentence about it being a problem Bush was elected in 2000." But: "Proud of husband's record dips to 70s. Any one of us could be a better president than current President spikes back above 80."
Obama: "...who has track record to bring about change" scores at 70."... who can overcome the special interests" spikes to mid 70s (high point of his answer)." So it looks like both answers worked...
The only GOP candidate mentioned last night by name was Mitt Romney. That had to make the folks in Boston smile. They are trying VERY hard to engage the Democrats on a daily basis.
If you thought the debate was centered on Clinton and Obama, you weren't the only one. "Many questions in the nationally televised session were aimed at the two leading candidates, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), and they used the forum to challenge each other more directly than they have in past debates."
The format -- not the candidates -- was last night's star, the New York Times says. "Most of the video questions posed in last night's Democratic debate were more memorable than the answers, proving that novices can ask good questions, but not necessarily elicit better answers than professional journalists."
Perhaps the biggest flaw of last night's TV event? The candidates were given the answers to the test. "Because many of the submitted questions -- ranging from health care to predatory lending by banks -- were posted online before the debate, the eight Democratic presidential campaigns were able to view many of the questions ahead of the debate and prepare answers."
The Washington Post's Shales seemed to like the YouTube questions, but was disappointed in the moderator. "Cooper was obsessed with the candidates' keeping answers brief, frequently interrupting them or cutting them off. This impulse, supposedly designed to curb long-windedness, leads to 'debates' that are just collections of quotes and sound bites, like political commercials, and is precisely the kind of thing that has helped trivialize issues and discourage voter interest."
Hotline On Call notes the gender imbalance of the questioners -- 2-1 men vs. women
Obama's missed jab… He took a shot at Clinton last night, but because the moderator missed the hit, many of the print reporters buried it. Says the Los Angeles Times in its 15th graph: "It was 'terrific' that Clinton asked the Pentagon about its plans, Obama said. 'I also know that the time for us to ask how we were going to get out of Iraq was before we went in, and that is something that too many of us failed to do,' he said. The partisan audience applauded. Clinton was expressionless."
The NY Post gives the debate to Obama with the headline, "Obama chills Hill: Attacks her over Iraq in Wacky 'snowman' debate."
The upside of the forum: "While some of the questions were on topics routinely raised in candidate forums, others were subjects rarely broached by journalists: whether the candidates had discussed sex education with their children, for one, and if speculation about Al Gore as a presidential contender "had hurt y'all's feelings?"
The Chicago Tribune adds that last night's debate's avoided "being this campaign season's version of a candidate playing saxophone on a talk show, the few dozen amateur questions that co-sponsor CNN selected from among almost 3,000 posted to YouTube led to a relatively lively and informative two hours."
Check out this headline in the Miami Herald: "Obama, Edwards say they would meet with Castro, Chavez." Is that a headline for a candidate who can carry Florida?
The Hartford Courant's Lightman says Dodd "has been a constant critic of past debates, saying he did not get enough time and he was often ignored. By the end of Monday night's … affair, his actual air time still lagged behind front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as John Edwards. Dodd got 8 minutes, 39 seconds for his answers, roughly the same as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. But Monday, Dodd did get the first question."
And now for the pundit reviews… Politico's Simon gave the win to Edwards, followed by Clinton and Obama. He liked Edwards' voice raising, thought Clinton was playing not to lose, and that Obama's jabs at Clinton were good but too subtle.
Here's the Wall Street Journal's front-page teaser: "Clinton drove home her readiness to be commander-in-chief, while trading tweaks with Obama and Edwards in a Democratic presidential debate with queries taken from submissions via YouTube."
Iowa columnist Doug Burns scored it big for Clinton. "No longer should the question be: Can a woman be president? With her fourth in a series of crushing Democratic debate performances the question everyone in America should be asking themselves: What have we been missing by eliminating more than half our population from the application process for this job since the late 18th century?"
And the Des Moines Register's Yepsen says "hats off" to CNN and YouTube for the debate format. As far as winners and losers, Yepsen calls Clinton "cool and cogent… Since she's the front-runner, until she stumbles -- or is tripped up -- she'll remain the front-runner." He said Obama and Edwards "played to a draw." He adds that Dodd and Richardson "gained the most." He called Biden's performance "mixed." Kucinich "seems to be a protest candidacy - or an ego trip." "Kooky," "loose cannon" Gravel's attacks "have grown tiresome and have moved beyond constructive criticism."