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Posted by on Aug 7, 2007 in Politics | 18 comments

Clinton, Obama Lead Feisty Pack At Democratic Debate (UPDATED)

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The Democrats held another debate — and more than ever one thing was clear:

The front-runners Senator Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (seen above in a photo taken in much friendlier times) are increasingly seen as….being positioned as…and gaining the stature of…well, front-runners. They are solidifying their status.

There may be an occasional stumble, but both Senators are improving with each debate. And if there is an occasional stubbed toe (notably by Obama), the two Senators and the Democratic field in general are learning from increasingly robust and wide-ranging debates.

In fact, Republican Presidential front runner former Mayor Rudy Giuliani is already predicting a Clinton-Obama ticket. He told London’s Daily Telegraph:

“I think it’s going to be a Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama ticket,” he said during a campaign stop at Sparky’s One Stop, a petrol station in the village of Stanhope (population 488), on a sweltering day in rural Iowa.

“They will run together because Barack Obama has had such a good showing and it’s going to be very hard for her to deny him a place on the ticket.”

But although many Democrats view a “dream ticket” of the aspiring first woman president and the first black vice-presidential candidate as unbeatable, Mr Giuliani predicted that he could see them off.

And, indeed, a few things were clear if you watched the debate:

(1) Obama started off the campaign with a reputation of a candidate brimming with charisma on the stump. It actually has taken him a while to transfer that lightning in a bottle to come across on the boob tube (a phrase that does not refer to Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction”). He comes across better with each debate.

(2) Hillary Clinton started off the campaign as someone charisma challenged, tending towards sing-songish, somewhat boring statements. BUT she has learned and learned quickly and, in terms of content, political positioning and her image on the tube, is now coming across as a highly-competent, thoughtful and tough-talking option for voters. Note the word “competent.” She is morphing into a politician who increasingly comes across more like the world’s past great women leaders than as a Senator who is the wife of a former President.

Note this comment from Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review Online’s The Corner:

In response to more than a few answers tonight — on Iraq, on China — I’ve said, “she sounds reasonable.” If I were a normal America[n], I think I’d really think that.

That’s really hard to admit. I still have both “Clinton Hater” and “Vast-Right-Wing Conspiracy” cards in my wallet.

ADVICE TO REPUBLICANS: Many GOPers are openly wishing to have Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate, figuring she has not shown that she can go beyond a certain point in the polls and is too polarizing a figure to win. But she is showing that she can adapt and change her image. She would not be the first: Richard Nixon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bill Clinton were agile in altering perceptions voters had of them (Nixon later lived up to the first impression).

Ms. Clinton may not be everyone’s cup of tea (Rush and Sean drink other brands) but it’s clear she will not be a pushover and has the potential of attracting female voters, independents, Democrats not enamored with their party’s progressive wing and perhaps even some Republicans who want to see their party “clean house” via a defeat in 2008.

(3) Senator Chris Dodd is also flowering in the debates, but you could bet money that he’s more likely to be Vice Presidential or cabinet material.

(4) John Edwards remains charismatic but you watch him and start to conclude: this not may be his year (again). Without Obama and Clinton in the race, he might be a front-runner.

(5) And it may not be Obama’s year, either. There’s a sense that Obama is where Senator John F. Kennedy was in 1956: someone who’ll come close but not clinch it. As Giuliani suggests, he could wind up as a Vice Presidential candidate with Clinton, making it a truly historic ticket. You get a sense that he is indeed the wave of the Democratic Party’s future — only 2008 may not be that future.

Obama found himself under attack at the debate — and handled it skillfully. The New York Times:

At a debate here at Soldier Field, where the candidates stood outdoors and sparred more vigorously than in many of their previous encounters, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut derided as “irresponsible” Mr. Obama’s plan to send the military into Pakistan to pursue terrorists if the Pakistani government failed to act on its own. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York later echoed the criticism.

“I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that,” Mrs. Clinton said, adding, “You can think big, but remember you shouldn’t always say everything you think if you’re running for president, because it has consequences across the world.”

Mr. Obama drew large applause when he struck back at the criticism, saying, “I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza sees the debates as creating a new split within the Democratic Party:

The Democratic field split into two factions Tuesday night at the AFL-CIO forum in Chicago, with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Joe Biden (Del.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) on one side and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) on the other.

Time and time again Biden and Dodd faced off against Obama and Edwards on foreign and domestic policy.

Dodd called Obama’s willingness to consider the possibility of a potential attack inside Pakistan “wrong”. Biden added: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.”

Obama retorted — quite effectively — that he found it “amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster… are now criticizing me for making sure we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war on terror.”

Biden later called out Edwards for the latter’s insistence that he alone among the candidates on the stage had fully supported unions. “It’s not where you’ve been in the last two years, it’s where you were in the six years in the Senate,” Biden said.

Edwards avoided a direct rebuttal, perhaps loath to elevate Biden by attacking him.

And Cillizza has a prediction:

Expect the spin out of the debate to center on these two groups. The Obama/Edwards allies will paint it as a choice between change and more of the same. Supporters of Clinton/Dodd/Biden will cast it as experience versus inexperience.

We don’t pretend to know who’s right in that spin zone; in truth, each side has a set of valid points.

What we do know is that Biden and Dodd helped Clinton tonight. They took shots at her rivals and withstood the criticism that came back at them. That allowed her to generally avoid any direct barbs from her rivals and kept her from getting down and dirty by engaging in a heated back and forth.

Once again: Republicans wishing for Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee in 2008 might be careful what they wish for. She is showing (so far) a keen talent for going with the flow — and letting the flow take her closer to where she wants to go.


UPDATE:
For a much different take on the debate be SURE to read The Glittering Eye.

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