During last night’s Democratic debate, there were two moments that stood out as presidential moments for the candidate. One occurred when Wolf Blitzer asked the candidates to raise their hand if he or she thought English should be the official language. Mike Gravel was the only one who did so, but Barack Obama pounced on the question itself. He said that “these are precisely the kinds of questions intended to divide us”, an answer which drew significant applause. Obama drove home the theme of his campaign and his reputation as a unifier.
Another presidential moment happened when Blitzer asked the candidates about a hypothetical situation in Iran. All the candidates began clamoring about the specifics of the situation, but it was Hillary Clinton’s voice who stood above all others. She then spoke in the first person plural, saying “We’re not going to answer hypotheticals.” Clinton also cast Democrats as united against Republicans, saying the differences between Democrats are minor.
Hillary Clinton: Right in the center of the stage, Clinton appeared calm and presidential in the debate, speaking for the entire group at times. She also appeared tough on terrorism, rejecting Edwards’ claim that the “war on terror” slogan is merely a bumper sticker. Clinton showed her policy strength and command of the issues. She even made a few cracks, commenting that sending Dick Cheney overseas is “hardly diplomatic” in her view.
Bill Clinton was also mentioned often during the debate, another strength for Hillary. A hero to the Democratic base, Bill Clinton’s presence will certainly help Hillary during the primary. Although hardly a scientific sample, CNN interviewed three New Hampshire voters after the debate. One said watching the debate sealed the deal for Hillary because you get “two for the price of one”.
Barack Obama: After a somewhat lackluster performance in the first debate, Obama had a strong night. He gave a memorable one-liner, telling Edwards he was “about four and a half years late on leadership on [Iraq]”. After appearing tentative on responding to a terrorist attack in the first debate, Obama reversed that perception. He clearly said he would assassinate Osama bin Laden if given the chance, even if innocent civilians died.
Obama presented his detailed health-care plan, rebutting those who criticize his lack of substance. Edwards did get into a bit of a tangle with Obama about the plan, saying it didn’t provide for true universal coverage. Edwards’ point was true, Obama’s plan only mandates coverage for children.
Joe Biden: Biden’s performance in the debate showed why he is an excellent senator. He appeared extremely knowledgeable on the issues and passionate, with his voice steadily rising as he talked about the situation in Darfur. Biden kept his answers direct and to the point, combating his garrulous image. Now having done well in the last two debates, it remains to be seen if Biden can translate his performances into money and a bump in the polls.
Bill Richardson: It’s been a train-wreck for Richardson ever since his subpar showing on Meet the Press. His constant repetition of “as governor, I …” got somewhat ridiculous, to the point that CNN analysts Arianna Huffington and Mike Murphy were keeping a running total. Richardson had a tendency to give long, winded answers, continuing even after Blitzer tried repeatedly to move on. Now, voters are learning about Richardson’s attractive resume. It’s time for him to show his attractive personality during the debates, as exemplified in his humorous television ads.
Chris Dodd: I don’t know if anyone else had this impression, but Dodd seemed to spend a lot more time explaining the problem at hand than presenting his ideas to solve it. He didn’t directly challenge any candidates on issues, which makes it quite difficult for a second tier candidate to break out.
And, we’ll be liveblogging the Republican debate starting tomorrow at 7 on CNN. After the debate, FOX News is having Fred Thompson for post-debate analysis and info about his own campaign.