The spin: Mark Halperin rounds up the opposition research from the Clinton and Obama camps on the debate here.
Obama camp's debate statement:
"Tonight, Barack Obama made the clear case for change by talking about how he'd be a President who could unite this country around a common purpose, put our interests ahead of the special interests, and be honest with the American people about the challenges we face. Barack Obama is the one candidate who clearly and consistently opposed the war in Iraq from the start, and he'd offer the strongest contrast to John McCain by offering a foreign policy that turns the page on the Bush-Cheney style of diplomacy and restores America's standing in the world. For over two decades, Barack Obama has brought people together to lift up struggling communities, expand health care, and take power away from lobbyists, and he will turn the page on the divisive politics of the past to make progress on the challenges facing working families as President," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
The focus groups: Clinton wins slightly among CNN viewers, but Frank Luntz's crew goes overwhelmingly for Obama:
Will they form the Democratic "dream team"? Blitzer asks whether they would consider an Obama-Clinton or a Clinton-Obama ticket going down the road?
Obama says to laughs that "obviously there's a big difference" between those two ... We've got a lot more road to travel. It's premature for either of us to start speculating.... I can say this about who I want .. part of what I'd like to do is restore a sense of what's psosible in government. He says he wants in his administration "people of the greatest excellence and competence. People with integrity. People with independence, people who will say no to me. No more yes-men and yes-women in the White House." People need a sense that government is on their side, that government is listening to them.
Blitzer: So, is that a yes? Is she on your short list?
Obama: "Hillary would be on anybody's short list."
Clinton: "I have to agree with everything Barack just said." We're doing our best to win the nomination, she says, but there is no doubt we'll have a unified party going into the election. She says she's going to have an interactive town meeting online Monday -- and she'd like his people to participate too.
Blitzer pushes Clinton on Iraq: CNN's Blitzer tried to pin Clinton down on whether she had made a mistake by backing the war in Iraq. USA Today sums it up:
Blitzer - what I hear you saying is you were naive in trusting President Bush?
Clinton (amid boos for Blitzer): "That is a good try, Wolf." She says she respects Obama's 2002 speech but since they've been in the Senate, they've voted the same way. She says it wasn't an open and shut clear case back in 2002. "There were legitimate concerns about what he might do," she says of Saddam Hussein. She says she made a "reasoned judgment."
Obama says the name of the resolution was authorization to use force in Iraq. Everyone was clear, it was vote to go to war. Sen. Clinton has claimed she has experience for day one, I think you need to be right on day one. He says this issue is relevant to how you make decisions in a dangerous world.
"We're having a wonderful time! Obama noted a "clear contrast" with Clinton -- his opposition to the Iraq war from the beginning. Wolf Blitzer responded, "Sen. Clinton, that's a clear swipe at you." She laughed, mockingly saying it was not (Obama agreed), and then added, "We're having a wonderful time!"
Clinton tackles the dynasty question. From Cillizza:
Clinton was asked perhaps the toughest question we have heard tonight -- a 38-year-old woman emailed in asking how Clinton could possibly represent change when the Bushes and Clinton have been on every presidential ballot for the past two decades.
After asking to be judged on her own merits (and not those of her husband), Clinton unleashed this gem: "It did take a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush and I think it might take a second one to clean up after this Bush."
An extended round of applause followed and, in a lucky break for Clinton, CNN broke for commercial -- helping to ensure people will remember the line.
Whether or not Clinton had that line in her hip pocket for tonight, she delivered it well and turned a tough question into a terrific moment.
Clinton on experience: She says she had "a great deal of responsibility" during her eight years in the White House. Here's her full response:
ABC's Rick Klein adds:
A BIG Clinton laugh when the question comes to controlling her husband. "The fact is, I'm running for president... I want the campaign to stay focused on the issues I care about." But that is PRECISELY the problem with what Bill Clinton has been saying. "It's a choice between the two of us," she says. If that's really want she wants, then pull Bill off the trail. Surely he has plenty of work he could be doing for his foundation.
Both candidates take on Romney. From The Trail:
Both Democratic candidates seem eager to take on Mitt Romney in the general election. Asked about whether Romney would make a better president because of the business executive experience that the Democrats lack, Hillary Clinton said that she thought that being president was about more than just running a business.
Obama jumped in with his own rejoinder. Romney, he said with a big grin, " hasn't gotten a good return on his investment so far in this campaign."
Obama wins 'best improved.' NBC's Chuck Todd says while both are doing well, considering his past sometimes-stumbling debate performances, Obama's shining tonight:
This appears to be a very polite but substantive debate so far. The health care discussion should make the wonk wing of the Democratic Party very happy. The most striking thing about this confrontation so far is the improvement in Obama as a debater. There was a time that the gap between Clinton and Obama at these debates was vast. Tonight, there's hardly a difference; Obama's benefitting big time from the no-time limit rule. Clinton, btw, is doing well herself; both are making a very professional and, frankly, nice impressions to what is likely to be one of the largest debate audiences to date.
Obama calls out Clinton on drivers' licenses. More from Cillizza:
Just as it appeared Clinton would escape the illegal immigration discussion without a mention of her support and then opposition to a plan in New York to give drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants, Obama brought it up.
In the "more out of sadness than anger" tone that anyone watching Obama deliver tough hits has grown accustomed to, Obama noted that "At this point she has a clear position but it took a while." OUCH.
Why did he mention that fact? Not to score political points, Obama insisted, but rather to "underscore the fact that this is a difficult political issue."
Never one to be one-upped, Clinton hit back with a sweet as pie smile on her face. "A week after I said I would try to support my governor despite my personal opposition, you were asked the same question and could not answer it," she said to Obama. Zing!
Kennedy, Edwards mentioned early. Both Clinton and Obama mentioned John Edwards multiple times in their opening statements, and Obama has mentioned Ted Kennedy twice (once referencing his work on health care, another time mentioning their work together on immigration).
Their major differences: First Read:
Asked their policy differences, Clinton mentioned health care, home mortgage policy, and talking with unsavory leaders (she is against meeting with those folks in her first year in office).
Obama parried those differences -- and brought up Iraq and eliminating the influence of lobbyists.
Celebrities! Rob Reiner, Bradley Whitford, Diane Keaton, Pierce Brosnan, Jason Alexander, and "the lame dude from The Office" (according to Josh Marshall) caught on camera in the audience.
Marshall asks, "What GOP operative masterminded holding this debate at the Kodak theatre with a bunch of movie stars in the audience?"
McCain makes an appearance: Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:
As we wrote earlier today, the emergence of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the likely Republican nominee would almost certainly impact tonight's Democratic debate.
Obama just used McCain as a foil to castigate Republicans for their fiscal responsibility. He praised McCain for voting against the original Bush tax cut but then joked "somewhere along the line the 'Straight Talk Express' lost some wheels."
Obama's opening statement: From the Obama campaign:
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton square off this evening in a 90-minute, no-response-limit battle at the Kodak. Check back here for constant updates leading up to the event and keep a lookout for tonight's liveblog of the action.
Tonight, it's the Democrats' turn to debate, as John Edwards' exit from the race leaves Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama facing off in their first one-on-one match up of the cycle, 8 p.m. ET at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. The debate is co-sponsored by CNN, the Politico and the Los Angeles Times.
Politico has posted the questions for tonight, and has been accepting votes from readers over which ones to ask. Check out the list here.
All the help you can get: Will the candidates behave themselves tonight after Obama's alleged snub of Clinton at the State of the Union? Political communications directors weigh in with advice for the two candidates.
Tonight's presidential debate in Hollywood between the two remaining major Democratic contenders, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, will mark their first one-on-one faceoff of the 2008 campaign.
With the debate participants reduced to two, the dynamics have changed. For one thing, the exchanges can take on a more personal edge.
The candidates "have to be very cautious to keep their emotions in check," said Thomas Hollihan, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication who has written about presidential debates. "The public doesn't like nasty." At the same time, he said, viewers will get the opportunity "to focus on the differences between these candidates" -- as well as on how the two Democratic contenders distinguish themselves from the Republicans on issues such as the war in Iraq.
Read the whole thing here.
Meanwhile, a Daily Kos diarist offers some advice to Obama about how to control the evening in a format that has highlighted Hillary's strengths this season.
Read more analysis here.
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