Last night's Democratic debate in Las Vegas may have been the most-anticipated (and possibly most-watched) debate of the election cycle. After Hillary Clinton's stumbles and non-answers in the last debate two weeks ago, her support has, for the first time in several months, showed some signs of shakiness, particularly in New Hampshire. This was the chance for Obama and Edwards to follow up and continue to chisel away. They failed.
Hillary came out swinging in a testy exchange at the start, and it first appeared she might be rattled. She quickly settled down, though, and gave perhaps her best performance yet. By the time she got the easily anticipated question about the "gender card"/"boys' club," she was relaxed and confident, and hit it out of the park. "They're not attacking me because I'm a woman," she replied with a smile, "they're attacking me because I'm ahead." The rest of the field will be staying free, because in Vegas they always comp the rooms for big losers.
Clinton may not have clinched the nomination with her win in this debate, especially given the proclivity of Iowa and New Hampshire voters to confound the polls and pundits, but she moved closer to it. The "Boys' Club" will need to eat their Wheaties to make a dent in her lead now.
Obama was particularly ineffective. He offered nothing of substance and continued to show a lack of understanding of the issues. His defense of his proposal to raise the limit on FICA taxes was weak, and his insistence we could overcome the energy problem with "leadership" showed he lives in some fantasy world. Neither were his other answers impressive. "Not Ready For Prime Time," indeed.
Edwards carried the attack as well as he could alone after the beginning, but his attempts met with mixed reaction from a crowd clearly not hostile to Hillary. He finished second, in my judgment, but has a long way to go to overcome Hillary's lead. As with the other contenders, going far enough left on Iraq and Iran to appeal to the liberal base puts him out of the mainstream, and even the most liberal Democrats want to win next year and understand the biggest vulnerability for their candidate will be national security.
Richardson has moved so far left as to turn himself into a caricature. He went so far as to say concern for "human rights" in foreign countries should sometimes trump our own national security. We should have some nice consolation prizes for him, including a home version of our game, and let's throw in a few weeks' worth of Jenny Craig so he can lose the weight he's gained at all those State Fair Hot Dog Eating Contests.
Chris Dodd speaks Spanish rather fluently. It's good to know he does something well.
Dennis Kucinich is just plain nuts. He claims to have "read" the Patriot Act, but hasn't a clue what it says. Kudos to Biden for calling him out on that - none of the others did, but maybe you need to be close to the floor to notice insects crawling around.
Mike Gravel earns the People's Choice Award for not showing up. Thanks, Mike, and keep up the good work!