Obama Wins Debate But No Knock Out Blow

The debate was much more cordial than many of the recent exchanges between Obama and Clinton. Hillary Clinton has learned her lesson that dishonest attacks are counterproductive. It was significant that we saw Chelsea but there was no sign of Bill. The two candidates got along so well that at times I felt like I was watching a debate between the tag team of Obama and Clinton vs. conservative talking head Wolf Blitzer and company. Obama and Clinton definitely won that debate as they debunked conservative talking points on items such as taxes.

As for the bigger battle for the Democratic nomination, there was no knock out punch but Obama did more to further his campaign. Simply having a debate where the two were on a similar level in terms of knowledge weakens Clinton’s claim that she is more experienced. As Josh Marshall wrote, “I think this helped Obama because it put the two of them on the same level, the same stature level.”

Their major disagreement, which will probably be the topic of clips on post-debate news coverage, which really determines who wins in the minds of the average voter, was over Iraq. Obama totally blew Clinton out on Iraq with Clinton not having a good argument to use against Obama. Obama opposed the war from the start–was right on day one. It is notable that Clinton gave up on her tactic of trying to falsely claim that their views were really the same. Nobody other than her dedicated supporters ever bought this one.

Clinton is in a no win position on Iraq. No matter how she tries to wiggle out of it, she was wrong. She is trying to copy John Kerry’s position that the vote was not the same as supporting going to war. Unfortunately this argument didn’t work politically for Kerry and it will be even harder for Clinton to use it. Kerry opposed the war before it started, giving some credibility to his argument, but Clinton did not. If Kerry could not get away from his IWR vote, Clinton has much less of a chance. Clinton also copied Kerry’s language in discussing going to war as a last resort.

Obama also outsmarted Clinton on immigration. Obama used a question to sound more attractive to Latino voters, where he has been weaker than Clinton, and refrained from blaming immigrants for the economic problems of blacks. Clinton fell into the trap of framing immigration as a black vs. Latino conflict and took the black side. This won’t be enough to get the black vote to move from Obama to Clinton, but this exchange could pick up some Latino votes for Obama.

With momentum already moving in Obama’s direction, and Obama cutting the gap between the two to only four points, Clinton needed a clear victory to return to her previous position as overwhelming front runner. Obama might not have done enough to jump significantly, but following the debate we will probably continue to see movement towards Obama.

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  1. 1
    Natthedem says:

    I watched the debate and then flipped immediately to some local college basketball, so I’m just now catching up to what the blogs and the pundits are saying.

    I thought both candidates did well, but Obama did better overall. Plus, I think for weeks now, I’ve thought he was the weaker debater–but this was a huge step forward compared to past performances.

    There were three questionable moments for me, with regard to Hillary Clinton, two of which you address here. First on the immigration question–I’ll have to go back to re-read the transcript, but my first reaction was “I can’t believe she said that.” Glad to see I wasn’t the only one who caught that. To his credit, I think Obama framed it strongly when he called it scapegoating and anything she said, after that, would looked bad.

    Second, on the Iraq question, I thought Obama mopped the floor with her. He took a lighter hand in the debate than I hope he does on the road prior to Super Tuesday. I mean, does anyone buy the “no one could have anticipated that…” line? I hope over the next few days Obama takes issue with that forcefully…because 23 members of the Senate, 133 members of the House, Al Gore and, if you believe him, her husband, did anticipate that.

    And lastly, the question of a Bush/Clinton being on the ballot every year since 1980…her response ended up being funny and she benefited from a commercial break immediately thereafter, but all in all, I don’t think it addresses a very real concern about the concentration of American political power within these two families. It’s not something you can just brush off, as Clinton did tonight.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Considering that she cannot make the Dynasty issue go away, I do at least give some credit to Clinton for her line regarding needing a Clinton to clean up after a Bush. It’s a decent line under the circumstances, but ending the dynasty once and for all by nominating Obama is a better idea.

    Obama might gain some points as a tremendous number of voters will look back and realize that they have never had an election where there wasn’t a Bush or Clinton on the ballot, especially if you include Bush I as VP.

    Clinton’s argument on the war doesn’t hold up because she didn’t protest the war until after it started. If you are arguing that Bush misused the authorization as Kerry did then you would be expected to protest the war before it started, as Kerry also did. Even with a considerable track record of opposing the war before it started Kerry was at a disadvantage on the war issue. Clinton will be even weaker in not having opposed the war until it was the politically safe position.

  3. 3
    Christopher says:

    Former AIPAC lobbyist turned anchor, Wolf “Leslie” Blitzer, was perfectly dreadful.

    I’m delighted the audience at the Kodak turned on him and showered him with boos and heckles when he tried to turn the debate into a UFC octagon.

    Overall, I think both candidates informed and avoided the bait Blitzer kept tossing their way.

  4. 4
    GinnyinWI says:

    On the immigration question, I thought Clinton’s argument just didn’t seem plausible. She painted an overly simplistic picture of black Americans being robbed of jobs they want by illegals. As Obama said, it’s a lot more complicated than that, and anybody with any knowledge of how the situation really is will know that. It made her look either deceptive or childishly naive.

  5. 5
    Sean C Higgins says:

    I watched the debate and Sen. Clinton seem out of touch with what was really going on!!! I really did not understand WHY she could not admit that she was wrong on the Iraq WAR!!! IF she had just admitted this Sen. Obama would really have no argument. I would hope that the rest of the country should see that this is a FATAL FLAW !!! I would hope we elect someone whom can admit their mistakes and move on to improve on those mistakes. After all we are all human and the preseident hopes he and his aides get it right but we have seen time & time again that this is not always the case.

  6. 6
    Christopher says:


    The Los Angeles Times today endorsed Barack Obama!

    Writing in part:

    The U.S. senator from Illinois distinguishes himself as an inspiring leader who cuts through typical internecine campaign bickering and appeals to Americans long weary of divisive and destructive politics. He electrifies young voters, not because he is young but because he embodies the desire to move to the next chapter of the American story. He brings with him deep knowledge on foreign relations and on this nation’s particular struggles with identity and opportunity. His flair for expression, both in print and on the stump, too easily leads observers to forget that Obama is a man not just of style but of substance. He’s a thoughtful student of the Constitution and an experienced lawmaker in his home state and, for the last three years, in the Senate.

  7. 7
    malcolm says:

    I’ll give him credit for using a historical democratic talking point against hillary last night:


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