The first 40 minutes of the debate did bring to mind a boxing match. But this time you can't blame it on the media. Wolf Blitzer, Joe Johns and Suzanne Malveaux put the obvious questions out there but Clinton and Obama took the proverbial rope and almost hung themselves and the Democratic party.
Barack Obama brought up Hillary Clinton's involvement with Walmart's corporate board and Hillary Clinton accused Barack Obama of once working for a slumlord. OUCH! CNN had to be thrilled because you will surely see this segment over and over and over.
The Clinton/Obama bickering did lead to one of John Edwards' best moments when he pointed out that their squabbling was not contributing anything substantive to a discussion of the real issues. Now let's see if the media includes John Edwards' comments in their recaps.
In my opinion this was Barack Obama's most challenging but overall his best debate performance. He looked comfortable in both the podium and the seated format. He clarified his position on his healthcare plan and an economic stimulus plan.
However, somewhere in the next few months he is going to have to give a better explanation about his voting record in the Illinois legislature. I am still stumped about the "present" versus "yea" or "nay" votes. I doubt that this will be an issue with the South Carolina voters but New York and California voters are not going to let that go without be challenged.
Barack Obama did get away with a response that neither Hillary Clinton or John Edwards could have gotten away with. Joe Johns asked Barack Obama what he thought of the often repeated phrase that Bill Clinton was the first Black President. Obama stated that he would have to see Clinton dance to tell if he was a brother. Now imagine that comment coming out of John Edwards' mouth. It would be perceived as being tantamount to using the "N" word.
Hillary Clinton was in great form and gave as good as she got. At one moment the audience expressed its disapproval of criticism of Barack Obama but she held her ground and made her point. She did somewhat sidestep the question asking if the voice that she found in New Hampshire's was Bill's. Did they really expect an answer to that question?
John Edwards was at his best -- passionate, making his case and staying above the petty squabbling over the other two. My biggest criticism of his performance would be his repeatedly bringing up the "lobbyist funding" criticism. Even if it's a valid point, no audience likes to be beaten over the head. There were moments when you did feel a little sorry for the white male also referred to as "a Son of the South" in the later part of the debate. That "Son of the South" phrase carries all sorts of connotations in a state like South Carolina.
In spite of the expected arguing between Clinton and Obama, this debate did give viewers a good sense of where the candidates stand on a number of the issues including:
- the economic stimulus plan
- Universal Health Care
- and Iraq
The debate will be rebroadcast on CNN at 1:00am EST Tuesday. It's worth viewing and judging for yourself.