Howard Fineman: "Bottom line, on my scorecard: a tie at best, and certainly not enough of a win for Clinton to change the dynamics of the nomination contest, which Obama is poised to lock up. Clinton wanted to be Joe Frazier, the relentless one, glaring across the ring for 90 minutes at the infuriating man with quick moves and tassels on his high-laced shoes. She complained about the referees, charged ahead as she had to do. She devastated him with a few power punches-but not enough of them-and didn't level him."
The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos: "Clinton, who is trailing in delegates, used her strength as a weapon, returning to the specifics of her healthcare plan as if determined to expose the superficiality of Obama's. He used his own strength as a means of defense, repeatedly answering her challenges with high-road appeals to find common ground.
"At times¬†-- such as when she pushed him to denounce Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in stronger terms - she seemed to go too far, but as the candidate who is trailing, she needed to take some risks and shake things up. In the end, she may have chafed some viewers but succeeded in taking the fight to Obama. Nonetheless, he seemed to emerge unscathed after skating through some verbal thin ice of his own."¬†
Roger Simon: "Hillary Clinton as the inevitable Democratic nominee didn't work. Hillary Clinton as the front-runner didn't work. So how about Hillary Clinton as the victim? That was her theme at the Democratic debate with Barack Obama in Cleveland Tuesday night."
Ron Fournier has a similar take: "After trying to save her sinking candidacy with awkward turns of flattery and sarcasm, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton resorted to a new tactic in Tuesday night's debate: self-pity. 'In the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time,' the New York senator said, sounding more like a put-upon third-grader than a presidential candidate. The topic was her past support of the North American Free Trade Agreement, an unpopular position in jobs-strapped Ohio. Rather than explain her evolution on trade, Clinton complained about the order of questioning and suggested that she agreed with a comedy skit accusing the media of favoring rival Barack Obama.
"'I just find it curious. And if anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow,' she said with a smile. 'I just find it kind of curious that I keeping getting the first question.' It is not unusual for politicians to feel sorry for themselves. Obama is not above whining about criticism and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has one of the thinnest skins in politics. But the New York senator's poor-me attitude punctuated a jarring week of shifting strategies from a desperate Clinton camp."
MSNBC's David Shuster, looking at the past transcripts, notes that out of the last 10 Democratic debates (including Tuesday night), Hillary Clinton got the first question six times. Barack Obama got the first question four times.
MSNBC Ohio 2/26/08 Clinton
CNN Texas 2/21/08 Clinton
CNN Los Angeles 1/31/08 Obama
CNN SC 1/21/08 Clinton
MSNBC Nevada 1/15/08 Clinton
ABC NH 1/5/08 Obama
DesM Register 12/13/07 Obama
NPR 12/4/07 Clinton
CNN Nevada 11/15/07 Clinton
MSNBC Philly 10/30/07 Obama
In the spin room after the debate, Obama strategist David Axelrod talked about Obama's Farrakhan answer, per NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan. "I thought it was good. I mean he was very forthright about it and answered it directly, and I felt fine about it." More: "The point is this. Louis Farrakhan said kind things about him. From what I read he didn't say it was an endorsement. Um, and uh I think Senator Obama made clear what his position was on Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitic statements." On the Russia question and whether Obama knew Medvedev's name: "Yeah, actually I think he does. But having seen Senator Clinton try and fair, I don't think he wanted to venture too much after that. I know for a fact that he knows, it came up earlier in the day."
Gov. Ted Strickland (D) stood behind Hillary Clinton on Saturday when she issued her "Meet me in Ohio" challenge, NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli notes. So did he think she got what she wanted at last night's debate? "It was very substantive," Clinton's top Buckeye State surrogate said in the spin room. "Things do not have to be angry or divisive or loud in order to be important. And I think that 17-minute discussion they had early on about health care was an important discussion."
Strickland's name was invoked tonight, when Tim Russert challenged her to release her tax returns as Strickland challenged his Republican opponent to do in his 2006 election. Though he said transparency was not a "major issue" in this race, he was "happy and pleased" that Clinton indicated she might release her returns sooner. The "big news," according to Strickland, was another commitment Clinton made -- to be willing to pull out of NAFTA if she could not renegotiate it on more favorable terms. "I think the people of Ohio will take note of that commitment, and that is perhaps something that will have a significant effect on their choice."