From NBC's Chuck Todd
At about 9:15, I was toying with the following lead to my post-debate wrap, "Nobody lost this debate, let's make that clear." And then the subject shifted to Iraq, that's when this debate turned Obama's way.
Both candidates started out soft and strong; it appeared another kumbaya debate was about to take place.
And then came Iraq and Clinton once again showed why the issue has been such an Achilles heel. Obama just has an easier time talking about his position. Clinton has to sit there and re-explain why she was for it and why she's not for it now. It's never a good moment for her which is the recent shift to the economy has been so welcomed by Team Clinton.
Overall, this was a strong night for Obama as he proved that he belonged on the same stage as Hillary Clinton. And that's an important accomplishment for Obama. Because, I keep wondering, are undecided voters waiting to see if Obama can prove his mettle for the presidency?
There's a theory that believes just that. And if that theory is true then this debate could prove to be very important to Obama. The audience for this debate was undecided voters and former Edwards supporters and I'm guessing these folks have a fairly low bar for Obama to prove himself to them, compared to the bar they have for Clinton since they are still not on board with the more well-known candidate. Think about the progress Obama's made in the debate department since
early '07. She regularly cleaned his clock at these early debates but
now that advantage seemed to disappear. And Clinton can't afford for that gap to disappear.
It's interesting that neither candidate is feeling the pressure of losing on Feb. 5; If anything, one gets the sense that both candidates realize this campaign could go on a few more months so no sense throwing any desperate attacks tonight. Neither candidate took crazy shots at each other which tells me that neither thinks they are behind.
Obama's strongest moments may have been toward the end when the debate shifted to Iraq. Clinton struggles to defend her actions at the time with her new position now and it just doesn't come across well. If this debate were being scored like a boxing match, the first 60 minutes would have been judged as a draw but the last 30 minutes would have been given to Obama on points, thanks to the Iraq issue.
If Obama does go on to defeat Clinton for the nomination, he will join McCain in winning his party's nod on the back of Iraq, even as the issue landscape has shifted to the economy. Go figure.
Two other extraneous thoughts: Democratic Party elders should be ecstatic about the civil tone the two
kept throughout the debate. Contrast the tone tonight with McCain v.
Romney last night. ... And CNN did the Democratic Party no favors by filling the audience with celebrities. Maybe that's good for CNN to have those folks to cut to during the broadcast but it only feeds into the stereotype that Hollywood and the Democratic Party are inseparable.