The Austin American-Statesman writes that Clinton and Obama "affably two-stepped for half a debate in Austin on Thursday night before bursting into prickly exchanges over which of them is better poised to lead the country after two terms by President Bush."
The Houston Chronicle says the debate "offered few surprises Thursday as they tangled over universal health care and who would be best able to serve as president on the first day in office. Clinton tried to portray Obama as a candidate lacking in experience to handle the office, but he described her as a candidate embedded in a type of politics that has resulted in gridlock in Washington."
The AP: "It was an unexpectedly gracious moment in a debate that was supposed to be a game changer for Clinton in the run-up to crucial primaries in Texas and Ohio March 4. After losing 11 straight contests to Obama in a race now clearly breaking his way, the former first lady chose the high road and even delivered what sounded to many like the dress rehearsal for a campaign valedictory address."
The Washington Post: "The Democratic debate began politely but gathered force in the closing portions with pointed exchanges on substantive issues and about the traits required of a president. The forum closed with a flourish, after the candidates were asked to describe how they had dealt with crises in their lives."
The New York Times: "Mrs. Clinton entered the debate with her advisers somewhat torn about how aggressive to be against Mr. Obama, who is enjoying significant political momentum after his string of victories and has a narrow lead in delegates for the Democratic nomination. Some advisers said she believed that simply by sitting on a stage, making her cases side-by-side with Mr. Obama, would reap points because she would look experienced and presidential. But others said she needed to be more assertive in making him seem ill-prepared for the job."
"As for her actual performance, Mrs. Clinton appeared relaxed at times as she made her case. At other points, she looked as if she could not wait to deliver punches or respond to Mr. Obama's remarks. Still, little that she said appeared to rattle him."
The Los Angeles Times: "Much of the pre-debate conversation centered on whether Clinton would launch a major offensive to gain ground she has lost to Obama in recent contests among those who once formed the backbone of her campaign, including lower-income and less-educated voters, women, and white men. But, with the exception of the 'Xerox' line, there were no new thrusts from the New York senator. Indeed, at times she appeared tentative."
The Miami Herald, not surprisingly, leads with the Cuba disagreements between the two Dems.
The AP's Fournier: Was that a white flag waving over Texas? Democrats who think Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to do something dramatic - like going negative - to save her presidential candidacy might wonder about her mostly positive, always cautious debate performance Thursday night. The New York senator is not one to surrender easily and nobody should count her out prematurely, but Clinton's kid-gloves approach with Barack Obama raises questions about her strategy headed into two must-win primaries March 4."
Roger Simon on the debate: "Stylistically, Clinton seemed to enjoy herself more - - she beamed throughout the evening - - and while Obama clearly had a head cold, I have watched him at 19 of these debates now and I have never gotten the impression he was enjoying himself. Enjoyment is not impossible. John Edwards, a trial lawyer, clearly enjoyed the cut and thrust of debates. But Obama not so much. He prefers speeches (his own and others) to debating. Still, he made his two key points: First, inspiration matters."
The Boston Globe's Canellos: "Obama last night was wonky and detailed enough to set heads nodding in Capitol committee rooms, but delivered probably the most effectively boring debate performance in recent presidential politics." More: [W]hile Clinton did nothing to hurt her chances, she failed to deliver any such game-changing moment. And Obama did not provide one with any serious gaffes."
Per NBC's Ron Allen, it was a pretty crazy scene at a place called Guero's in Austin after the debate, where Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were inside the packed Tex-Mex restaurant. Several dozen more people were outside trying to look through the windows. "Madame President, Madame President," people were shouting inside.
Campaigning in San Antonio last night, Bill Clinton praised his wife's performance, NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann notes. "I thought it was obvious that I was ready to be president and lead tomorrow," he said. Later, he declared that he "loved it" when his wife lauded Obama during the debate and called for national unity. But the mushiest line came when the press corps got a rare within-earshot opportunity to lob a softball his way. Asked what his favorite part of the debate was, he touched his heart affectionately and said "Oh, her closing. That's my girl."