The pundits: Obama won the debate last night, thanks to Iraq

Here's what the pundits are saying about the debate last night:
Spencer wrote,

your pretty face is going to hell:
The debate was tepid, very substantive and saw minimal distinction between Clinton and Obama. Then came Iraq. And it ceased to be close.

Obama made the full-spectrum critique of the Iraq war -- tougher on terrorism than she was, comprehensive in his reappraisal of foreign affairs, vociferous on the need to get out of Iraq and what its implications are. This critique that Matt noticed yesterday? It's not a fluke. This is his closing argument against Hillary, and then McCain.

And Clinton had... nothing. A tiny incompetence-dodge argument, an obfuscatory pretense that she didn't actually vote for the war, and a refusal to consider the error an error even when predicating her support for leaving Iraq on the fact that the war is filled with... errors. (Not that she was naive for backing the war!) For ten minutes, Hillary Clinton looked like her caricature. By the time Barack Obama started his reminder that the vote Clinton cast in October 2002 was a vote for the war by saying "I don't want to belabor this..." it was like a mercy killing.

I don't know how a single Democratic voter watches that exchange and thinks, "Yeah, I'm gonna vote for Hillary Clinton! The war was a tough call and maybe it wasn't a mistake, but it's a mistake now!"

Update: My friend Rebecca reminds me: at one point in Clinton's rambling, spastic defense of the Iraq war -- sorry, but it went beyond a defense of her vote -- she said that Saddam Hussein was "competing" to be a champion of the Arab world with Osama bin Laden. Or something. What was that all about? Is Steve Hayes writing her talking points?

Andrew Sullivan wrote,

It was, I think, his best debate in the campaign so far. The one-on-one format elevated him instantly and he commanded the stage and the occasion. Hillary Clinton did not do poorly. All her strengths were on show: the policy mastery, the gaffe-free talking points, the Clinton record in the 1990s. But that made his mastery all the more impressive. The good natured sparring helped him. He neutralized her on healthcare and simply cleaned up on the war in Iraq. But most crucial: he seemed like a president. He was already battling McCain. She was still pivoting off Bush. In his body language, he carefully upstaged her, without looking as if he were trying. By the end of the debate, he was pulling her chair back for her.

I'd say that he won the primary election tonight. She is still a formidable candidate and her massive institutional advantage may eventually give her the nomination. But she hasn't won this primary argument or this primary battle. If she becomes the nominee, it will be because she survived the primaries. He won them.

You know my bias. It's on my sleeve. But I've criticized Obama's performances in the past and couldn't find a flaw tonight. A good closer, as I've been told for over a year now. You can say that again.

Marc Ambinder wrote,

First Thoughts: The Dem Debate

31 Jan 2008 09:56 pm

I was tempted to call this encounter a draw but I am mindful that there are no zero sum debates in presidential politics.

And twenty minutes of Iraq happened. And so I'll give Obama the edge. Clinton was forced, for about 20 minutes, to recapitulate her vote on Iraq, over and over again. It was tough for her. She seemed to mire herself in the details of history.

Obama came into the debate moving up in polls across the country. His presence was, for the first 45 minutes or so, commanding. His opening statement was pitch perfect, segueing from praise for his rivals to the heart of his message. He ably made his case that this is a change election and the trajectory of change is steeper with Obama. His late-in-the-debate answer on Iraq was much better than hers.

Around 50 minutes in, the momentum swung towards Clinton. Obama was put on the defensive by Wolf Blitzer, who tried to goad him into calling Hillary Clinton unprincipled. Clinton, ah, found her voice, managing to show sympathy for undocumented workers and simultaneously pointing out how she took the effects of illegal immigration more seriously than Barack Obama. Clinton, in seeking a bipartisan solution, sounded more like Obama than Obama. Clinton's answer plays well everywhere: among Latinos in California to conservative whites in Oklahoma.

I think Clinton's goal tonight was to essentially humble herself before the Democratic Party that rebuked her so profoundly in South Carolina. Substance and niceness and graciousness were the order of the day. By her own standards she succeeded. She still doesn't have a good answer to the dynasty question. I hear it a lot from voters on the trail. "We are all judged on our own merits" is a tautology.

Surprise: the time limits helped both Clinton and Obama. She had the time to turn every question back to her credentials and her projection of a humble, expansive, gracious character... she had the time to showcase her unmatched policy depth. Obama, who often chafes at soundbite answers, was able to speak in paragraphs and parentheticals and not have it count against him.

A few thoughts:

*Clinton mentioned John Edwards thrice, Obama mentioned him twice, but he also mentioned Bill Richardson, so, they're equal.

* Also: Someone seemed to have planted the idea in Obama's mind that he ought to start taking on John McCain, which he did, effectively.

* Obama really gives a great answer on the war, talking about the mindset differences between himself and Clinton and stressing the need for a date certain. He's found a way to create daylight between himself and Clinton on withdrawing from Iraq.

* Watching the debate from the perspective of a Democrat, it's easy to see why the party is so enthusiastic about its two candidate finalists.

Chuck Todd, one of the best mind in the business wrote,

Did Iraq tip the debate to Obama? We thought last week's contentious and (at times) mean-spirited debate nearly resembled that rumble-in-the-rain scene in "The Outsiders." Yet last night's Clinton vs. Obama event was quite different. Given their polite exchanges, the cordial tone, and the Hollywood setting, we'd have to say that the debate seemed -- at least to Democrats tuning in -- like one of those feel-good movies in which the protagonists, against all odds, come together and win the day: "Remember the Titans,""Stand and Deliver,""Shawshank Redepmtion." Cue the slow clap. As far as evaluating the debate, it was tough to pick a winner in the first hour. Both made very professional and nice impressions in what had to be one of the largest debate audiences to date. Then came Iraq -- an issue that had virtually disappeared from the campaign trail and past debates -- and Clinton once again showed why the issue has been such an Achilles heel for her. Obama just has an easier time talking about his position, while Clinton has to re-explain why she was for it and why she's not for it now. If the debate were being scored like a boxing match, the first 60 minutes would have been judged as a draw, but the last 30 minutes would have been given to Obama on points, thanks to the Iraq issue.

* Levin Amendment returns: Speaking of Iraq, Clinton was asked a question she doesn't always get: Why she voted against the 2002 Levin amendment, which would have required more diplomacy before the US went to war against Iraq. At the debate, Clinton answered as she normally does, "The way that amendment was drafted suggested that the United States would subordinate whatever our judgment might be going forward to the United Nations Security Council. I don't think that was a good precedent. Therefore, I voted against it." But as Al Hunt recently wrote, "It did no such thing, Levin said at the time and a spokesman reiterates now. The proposal's language explicitly required that Congress `not adjourn' before it `promptly considers proposals related to Iraq if the United Nations fails to adopt such a resolution.' Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat who, like Senator Clinton opposed the Levin amendment, said at the time the UN charge was `specious' and that this was a vote about supporting an invasion." Rezko became a household name after last week's debate. Will the same be true of the Levin amendment after last night?

* The debate gap narrows: Overall, it was a strong night for Obama, as he proved that he belonged on the same stage as Clinton. And that's an important accomplishment, because you keep wondering whether undecided voters are waiting to see if Obama can prove his mettle for the presidency. There's a theory that believes just that. And if that theory is true, then last night's debate could prove to be very important to Obama. The audience was undecided voters and former Edwards supporters, and we're guessing these folks have a fairly low bar for Obama to prove himself to them, compared to the bar they have for Clinton since they are still not on board with the more well-known candidate. Also, think about the progress Obama has made in debates since last spring. Clinton regularly cleaned his clock at those events, but now that advantage seemed to disappear. And Clinton can't afford for that gap to disappear. Was last night akin to Reagan and Carter in '80 or Kennedy and Nixon in '60? We'll find out Tuesday.

It's hard to find someone who thought Hillary won the debate. Some observers were willing to call it a draw and Marc Ambinder seems to reconsider his early evaluation about the debate. Here's what he posted early this morning:

Who won last night? In the sense that there's an election a-brewin', someone obvious did. But the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to make a call. For the first solid hour of the debate, Barack Obama was kept on the defensive by Hillary Clinton; she demonstrated her mastery of health care policy and immigration policy. For the final third of the debate, Hillary Clinton was forced to review, over and over and over, her 2002 vote on the use of force resolution.

CNN estimates that between 5 and 6 million people watched the debate, many of them new to the presidential race. Probably 40 million other voters will get their debate impressions via television and radio. And one storyline along predominates: two candidates, about whom the party is pretty darn enthusiastic, being nice to each other and challenging the Republicans. The biggest applause line of last night came after Wolf Blitzer seemed to encourage the crowd to cheer for the prospect of an Obama/Clinton or Clinton/Obama ticket.

Hillary is trumpeting @ a diary on Dailykos that called her perfomance impressive /31/224553/233/114/447360. Usually, she receives rave reviews from the talking heads but today is not the case.

What do you make of the debate? Who won? What was the turning point of the debate you based your call on?

My friend Paul who's not crazy about politics think Hillary did very well early on but did poorly at the end on the topic of Iraq. Yet, he was reluctant to call it an Obama win.

Tags: Debate, Hillary, obama (all tags)



Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Breaking: Obama inching closer to Clinton according to the latest Rasmussen tracking poll. They are essentially tied the last two days after John Drops out. Here's an excerpt,

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows Barack Obama inching closer to Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. It's now Clinton 43%, Obama 37%. (see recent daily numbers). A week ago, Clinton had an eleven point advantage, 41% to 30%.

Daily tracking results are collected via nightly telephone surveys and reported on a four-day rolling average basis. The last two nights of tracking were the first without John Edwards in the race. For those two nights, it's Clinton 44% and Obama 42% meaning that Clinton's support is essentially unchanged. This suggests that many former Edwards supporters now support Obama, many others have yet to make a decision, and few currently support Clinton.

by Jr1886 2008-02-01 06:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Andrew Sullivan is a tool for Obama, so he is biased. Chuck Todd is somewhat neutral, but he can steer outwards sometimes; and you can see that with his comments.

Alot of pundits did think she did well, such as Rick Klein and Bill Schneider. Buchanan from MSNBC as well.

by American1989 2008-02-01 06:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Chuck Todd, one of the best mind in the business wrote,

- Are you serious ? lol

I didn't get that impression .

Andrew Sullivan wrote,

- Now you are really reaching.

Wait for the vote on Tuesday.

by lori 2008-02-01 06:15AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night
     You got to give it up for the Guy. Chuck is really smart.  And, a lot of people in the real world likes him for his great analysis. Andrew is for Obama so I see y'all points.
by Jr1886 2008-02-01 06:18AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Chuck Todd tries to resist but he has bought into the Hillary sucks mentality at MSNBC.  He is almost useless in this election cycle.  I mean fox is better than MSNBC this primary season and even Bill Bennett had to admit Hillary won and he HATES her and Bill Clinton.

It is very clear she won the debate,  No one really cares about the Iraq vote anymore and people wouldn't know the Levin amendment if it bit them in the ass.

by MollieBradford 2008-02-01 06:25AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

He said he's bias but he used to be critical of some Obama's perfomance too. I can see your point though

by Jr1886 2008-02-01 06:16AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Obama is getting most of Edwards supporters according to the latest Rasmussen poll

by Jr1886 2008-02-01 06:19AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

you know i am not really surprised about that.

if you wanted to be for hillary clinton i think you would have by now , so i think he gets the lion share

by lori 2008-02-01 06:22AM | 0 recs
: Obama won the debate

The only question that still needs to be asked of HRC is why she did not bother to read the NIE before voting to go to war.

Very glad to hear Wolfe ask her about the levin amendment. Carl Levin is not a crazy lefty and he sponsored it and HRC says it was some kind of UN plot to undermine our national secrurity?

No, like the was a political calculation by HRC who was eyeing the white house and did not want to look subservant to the UN...HRC- political opportunist who endorsed an action that has cost us 4000 american souls.
And trillions of dollars.

She gambled with my sons life. She lost, he lost, we all lost. Sad.

by hawkjt 2008-02-01 06:23AM | 0 recs
Re: : Obama won the debate

yeah keep pimping that line.  

by MollieBradford 2008-02-01 06:27AM | 0 recs
Re: : Obama won the debate

" No, like the was a political calculation by HRC who was eyeing the white house and did not want to look subservant to the UN...HRC- political opportunist who endorsed an action that has cost us 4000 american souls.
And trillions of dollars.

She gambled with my sons life. She lost, he lost, we all lost. Sad."

- Look I respect the service of your son in Iraq and I also have family members serving in iraq and I have to say your comments are deeply offensive and ridicolous .

  I am not willing to ascribe such unreasonable statements to any politician because the last time I checked it was a volunteer army .

  So before you start accusing any politician of gambling with other people's lives you might want to remember its a volunteer army and its ultimately your sons choice if he wanted to go to Iraq or not ,if he thought it was a gamble and not what he wanted to do I am sure he wouldn't have volunteered.

 It would be nice if you do away with these types of unreasonable comments.

by lori 2008-02-01 06:38AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate

What a pity the ordinary people in the CNN focus group didn't. They thought it was 60/40 her. And is it any surprise pundits like Sullivan thought Obama won. The credentials of these people are totally worthless but that seems to escaped the notice of the most dedicated Obama fans like Jr. How ironic that they now rely on the endorsements of the chattering media classes and Democratic establishment when they have been telling us all year that she is being forced on us by these very same people. Jr doesn't your core instinct and intelligence EVER cause you to question this contradiction.      

by ottovbvs 2008-02-01 06:25AM | 0 recs
Is this a joke?

I must have seen a completely different debate. :)

by bluemoon 2008-02-01 06:25AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Breaking: Gore to endorse Obama. Check for details

by Jr1886 2008-02-01 06:25AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Hey did you read the article on that website at all lol

How come everything is breaking to you lol , even stories that don't make sense.

You are really an avid obama supporter.

by lori 2008-02-01 06:30AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Sorry,I was supposed to put a question mark. I make no apologies for breaking the news.

by Jr1886 2008-02-01 06:33AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

An actual breaking story that I haven't seen reported here: California SEIU endorsed Obama a short while ago.

by DPW 2008-02-01 06:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Talk about typical misleading.  That Gore article has not one shred of indication that Gore is going to endorse- in fact, it plainly says he says he won't- it just gives a bunch of reasons that he should.

And yeah, democrats should be led to the Drudge Report to get their news nowadays.

by reasonwarrior 2008-02-01 07:21AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits:

Maybe- but the pundits seem much more obsessed about Iraq and how we got there than voters are who seem more concerned about the economy and healthcare- so we'll have to see when they weigh in-  but I just don't think Iraq is the big deal people make it out to be anymore.  I think we're passed worrying about how we got in and are concentrated on how we get out- the constant blame-game on that I think is over-estimated.  

by reasonwarrior 2008-02-01 06:42AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits:

Clinton was claiming all the gravitas but Obama used Iraq to show that she has no judgment. From there, she was on the defensive till the end.

Breaking: to endorse Obama. Slap to Clinton for a group that was for formed to defend Bill during impeachment proceeding.

by Jr1886 2008-02-01 06:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Breaking news

In a resounding vote today, Political Action's members nationwide voted to endorse Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for President. The group, with 3.2 million members nation-wide and over 1.7 million members in Super Tuesday states, will immediately begin to mobilize on behalf of Senator Obama. The vote favored Senator Obama to Senator Clinton by 70.4% to 29.6%.
Senator Obama accepted the endorsement stating:

""In just a few years, the members of MoveOn have once again demonstrated that real change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. From their principled opposition to the Iraq war - a war I also opposed from the start - to their strong support for a number of progressive causes, MoveOn shows what Americans can achieve when we come together in a grassroots movement for change. I thank them for their support and look forward to working with their members in the weeks and months ahead."

Eli Pariser,'s Executive Director, issued the following statement on the group's endorsement:

"Our members' endorsement of Senator Obama is a clear call for a new America at this critical moment in history. Seven years of the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration have left the country desperate for change. We need a President who will bring to bear the strong leadership and vision required to end the war in Iraq, provide health care to every American, deal with our climate crisis, and restore America's standing in the world. The enormity of the challenges require someone who knows how to inspire millions to get involved to change the direction of our country, and someone who will be willing to change business as usual in Washington. Senator Barack Obama has proved he can and will be that President."

"With 3.2 million members nationwide and over 1.7 million members in states that vote next Tuesday, we'll be able to immediately jump into action in support of Senator Obama's candidacy. We've learned that the key to achieving change in Washington without compromising core values is having a galvanized electorate to back you up. And Barack Obama has our members 'fired up and ready to go' on that front.

by BDM 2008-02-01 06:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Breaking news

Seriously, the issue of Iraq is no longer dominant; people are concerned about the economy and health care. If Iraq is their No.1 issue, they are against Clinton from the start. So, it doesn't hurt her.

by American1989 2008-02-01 06:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Breaking news

Great for Hillary Clinton lol

I hope Obama trumpets the endorsement.

by lori 2008-02-01 06:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Breaking news

This from the guy who would not even show up for the moveon vote in the Senate.  Honestly, most were already going to vote for him, but moveon members are pretty radical- those who like Hillary will still vote for her, so I don't see it helping him that much.

by reasonwarrior 2008-02-01 06:59AM | 0 recs
Re: The pundits: Obama won the debate last night

Fired up!!

by Jr1886 2008-02-01 06:57AM | 0 recs


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