How sunny were the two candidates? So sunny that the New York Times used a picture of the two with the biggest smiles either one has ever shown on the trail. "Gone were the sharp and sometimes personal attacks that have characterized a year's worth of debates, particularly a combative session last week in South Carolina, which both sides conceded had tarnished their images. Still, the candidates were at pains to lay out their differences on issues like national health care, the Iraq war and experience in their last appearance together before voters in more than 20 states weigh in Tuesday on the presidential nominating fight."
The Los Angeles Times' lead: "The Iraq war reemerged Thursday as a dividing line between the two major Democrats remaining in the presidential contest, as Barack Obama used a Los Angeles debate to argue he has the judgment to lead the nation out of war and Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted that she has the gravitas to do the same… The gravest distinction came on the war, which loomed large as an issue as the presidential race began but has gradually diminished in the Democratic contests. With the war again the focus, the race reverted to the campaign's purest distillation: Clinton's experience against Obama's judgment."
USA Today: "The debate was more civil in tone than the combative exchanges between the two at last week's debate in South Carolina, when he derided her role on the Wal-Mart board and she hurled back the name of his controversial fundraiser now under indictment. But it was no less tough in substance. Each sharply promoted his or her own credentials for the Oval Office -- and prospects for managing to get there -- over the other."
"But no rules or referees were needed in this kindest and calmest of forums," the Boston Globe writes. "When Barack Obama started the night by declaring his eternal friendship with Hillary Clinton - and pointing out, accurately, that 95 percent of their policy notions are identical - it didn't exactly set the stage for conflict. What followed was a quiet, detailed discussion of policy issues, focused at times on minute differences, peppered with occasional bouts of mutual admiration."
The New York Daily News: "And the Oscar for the most cordial, polite, downright friendly performance after a month of ripping each other on the primary trail goes to: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for their debate Thursday night."
Politico's Roger Simon: "Except for the war -- and it was a big exception -- Clinton had a good evening, however. Debates emphasize issues, and Clinton loves to talk about issues, sometimes to Obama's frustration." More from Roger: "Hillary Clinton thought she had driven a stake through it, but it turns out to be the issue that will not die: She voted to authorize the Iraq war, she refuses to say it was a mistake and she refuses to apologize for it. And Barack Obama continues to whack her for it."
When Variety decides they should do a story on a debate, then it must mean Hollywood and the Democratic Party have intertwined. "Sure, there was a carnival atmosphere outside the Kodak Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, where the usual assortment of costumed superheroes and characters wore campaign buttons, and some in the audience were decked in gowns and high heels, as if it were Oscar night. In the audience were Stevie Wonder, Steven Spielberg, Pierce Brosnan, Diane Keaton, Rob Reiner, Leonardo DiCaprio, Garry Shandling, Bradley Whitford and Sherry Lansing, among others."
Per NBC's Lauren Appelbaum, here are timings from the debate:
Clinton: 41:15 -- 20 questions
Obama: 37:09 -- 18 questions
NBC/NJ's Athena Jones has a few tidbits from the spin room after the debate. With multiple mentions of Edwards' name during the debate, it was no surprise to hear Clinton strategist Mark Penn talk about coveted Edwards voters. "I think a lot of those voters are out there deciding," he said. "I think they haven't decided yet."
When asked about trying to win over Edwards supporters, Penn talked about how Clinton could appeal to them. "I think she has a lot of things that appeal to the voters. If you notice her health-care plan is a universal health-care plan like Sen. Edwards'. I think the kind of compassion that she's had for people, the kind of work that she has done since the Children's Defense Fund on issues like poverty, I think play very importantly," he said.
In the space of merely a week, Bill Clinton has gone from quarrelsome to bland to downright syrupy about the Democratic race for the White House, NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann notes. Speaking to a crowd of about 2,500 at the University of Arizona, Clinton declared his wife's performance at last night's debate "magnificent," but -- without missing a beat -- added that "Senator Obama was also very good."