Also, while Clinton got an "A" for theatrics, she didn't score well on the specifics front. She better hope there isn't a Yankees-Cubs World Series because her answer was too, dare we say, Clintonian by half. Sure, the answer was in jest but it's one of those that will be used as a punch line for not answering specifics on, say, Social Security, Israel or Iran.
Since it was late last night, many folks missed out on how things played out in the spin room. NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli reports... In the spin room, opposing camps seemed to focus on Hillary Clinton's attempts to avoid specifics on certain questions. Obama New Hampshire co-chair Jim Demers said Obama "answered the questions directly. I thought that was a contrast to some of the others... Senator Clinton refused to answer some of the questions, said that she wasn't going to answer hypotheticals. And Senator Obama was very direct... I think people want to have the questions answered so they know where the candidates stand."
Elizabeth Edwards said her husband was "being really direct with respect to the issues," while "some other candidates might have been a little more cautious." "John is as always really direct and I think in the end that's what's going to be attractive to voters in New Hampshire, [and] frankly across the country," she said.
And Mike Gravel, who had told us earlier that he'd confront Clinton on her Iran vote today, said her answer "was terrible. Terrible. She set the stage for the most significant second vote in this century." Clinton strategist Mark Penn countered that Clinton was "asserting her strength on the issues, not the opposite." "I think she refused to be trapped into hypotheticals. She was kind of warning, 'I'm not gonna fall into that trap that I think others have fallen into,'" Penn said. New Hampshire House Speaker Terri Norelli, a Clinton endorser, said she respected that Clinton would not give "pat answers to complicated issues." "She looks at complex issues as if they are complex. The way I think a president should," Norelli said.
How the debate played... The L.A. Times subhead: "Rivals sling barbs at Clinton during a debate but fail to break out of the pack on issues such as Iraq and healthcare." More: "Although there were some sharp moments on the stage at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College -- particularly over the war in Iraq -- the debate illustrated yet again how closely the candidates are aligned on policy issues, suggesting that the nomination fight will probably come down to who Democratic voters believe is the most electable."
Salon's Scherer has a lot of fun using the "Bionic Woman" as his backdrop. Concludes Scherer: "She is good. Bionic good."
The Washington's Post lead: "Clinton found herself on the defensive... The two-hour debate features clear differences but few fireworks. Clinton (N.Y.), the front-runner for the nomination, drew steady criticism, but her seven rivals couched their disagreements with respect rather than scorn or sharp words."
Iowa analyst Douglas Burns declares Clinton the big winner, thanks to the late exchange with Russert over Bill Clinton and torture. But he also tips his hat to Edwards and Biden.
But the dean of Iowa political journalism, David Yepsen, believes this was one of Clinton's weaker debate performances and he singles out her ducking of the Social Security solvency question as her worst moment. More Yepsen: "While the evening couldn't have been pleasant for Clinton, it opened a necessary discussion Democrats must have: If they don't probe her weaknesses, the Republicans will. Democrats may well want to nominate her but they first need to see how she defends herself."
From Real Clear Politics' Wilson: "As candidates leave Hanover, the story line remains much the same as it was entering. Clinton's performance, while not exceptional, stood out by virtue of other campaigns' lack of ability to make her stumble. If that is to change, Edwards, Obama and other candidates will need to find a new line of attack that can actually bring her down."
NBC/NJ's Athena Jones reports on the results of one Dartmouth focus group. A group of 16 undecided Dartmouth students, who got together to watch the debate, declared Obama the big loser and said Clinton held her own. The focus group, which was sponsored by the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, later reconvened to watch the debate together. The students, who are registered to vote in New Hampshire, said Richardson and Biden also scored well. Earlier in the day the group got together to talk about what characteristics they were looking for in a candidate. They mentioned honesty, character, experience, accountability and leadership skills, and discussed the relative importance of things like likeability and attractiveness.
They also played what may be best described as a game of free association. When Professor Ronald Shaiko asked them to talk about what words came to mind when they thought about the two major political parties, here's what they said: Democrats: social programs and social issues, bigger government and higher government spending. Republicans: money, corporate money, war, oil, pro-life, Halliburton, religious, defense, guns, the South, morals and white.
Meanwhile, the Open-Vote.com online survey of 400-plus Dartmouth students rated Clinton as the debate winner. Clinton led with 34% of the vote, followed by Obama with 26% and John Edwards with 15%. No other candidate was rated the winner by more than that.
The New York Times: "The three leading Democratic presidential candidates refused on Wednesday night to promise that they would withdraw all American troops from Iraq by the end of their first term, saying in a televised debate here that they could not predict the future challenges in Iraq. But the candidates displayed deep divisions on a number of issues, including how to deal with Iran's pursuit of a nuclear program."
More: "Clinton, who has been leading in most national polls and is increasingly perceived as the candidate to beat in the Democratic primaries, found herself under direct and oblique attack from her opponents over things like her husband's legacy to her handling of health care reform in the 1990s."
USA Today says that Clinton was the center of attention. "Faced with Clinton's wide lead in national and New Hampshire polls, the former first lady's rivals tried to portray her as weak on ending the war in Iraq, too cautious on overhauling Social Security, and unable to achieve reform on her signature issue, health care."
Concord Monitor: "Clinton found herself in the spotlight for much of the debate, both because of criticism from her opponents and due to tough questioning from Russert. Clinton and Russert sparred several times, notably on the issue of Iran."
Politico's Ben Smith seems to catch Clinton in a contradiction on the issue of torture. "Clinton (N.Y.) ended her support for legalized torture at a debate in New Hampshire Wednesday night, splitting with her husband – and with her own recent stance on the charged issue."
"In a pair of interviews with the New York Daily News last October, Clinton outlined the same narrow exception that Russert described, and which had also been floated by former President Bill Clinton in an interview last year with National Public Radio.
"If we're going to be preparing for the kind of improbable but possible eventuality, then it has to be done within the rule of law," Clinton said at the time, in a telephone interview with this reporter, expanding on comments to the Daily News Editorial Board that there should be "lawful authority" for torture in some cases. She said then that the "ticking time bomb" scenario would be a narrow exception to her opposition to torture.
"In the event we were ever confronted with having to interrogate a detainee with knowledge of an imminent threat to millions of Americans, then the decision to depart from standard international practices must be made by the president, and the president must be held accountable," she said.
The Daily News also leads with the contradiction on torture.
Wall Street Journal: "Bickering over style but doing little to rise from the pack on major issues such as war, health care, Social Security overhaul and immigration, the candidates submitted to two hours of questioning in an event at Dartmouth College that was notable for its civility and scant fireworks."
Boston Globe: "Clinton, appearing at ease amid the assaults on her policies, was cautious in her responses, refusing to commit to pulling all US troops out of Iraq by 2013, and hedging her responses on whether to raise Social Security taxes or support Israel in a hypothetical military attack on Iran."
The Boston Globe's Canellos examines Clinton's performance and sees some potential holes. "More than in most previous debates, the distance between Clinton's sober approach to foreign policy and the emotions of the Democratic Party seemed at odds."
And what about Bill? The AP on Biden pointing out that "there's also a lot of the old stuff that comes back" with another potential Clinton presidency. "It was Biden's remark that laid bare a central quandary about Hillary Clinton's candidacy: whether she can justifiably take credit for her husband's successes while sidestepping the controversies and lingering questions that make some voters wary of another Clinton presidency."