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UPDATED: 1:25am, WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27th
Pundits Weigh In: ABC's Rick Klein: "That was an exhausting 90 minutes -- just to watch. Probably as close to a draw as you can imagine -- really, two very talented politicians and debaters fighting it out extremely closely. On one level -- no clear winner is good news for Obama, the frontrunner, who avoided any significant missteps. But there are plenty of scattered moments for the Clinton campaign to be proud of..."
NBC's Chuck Todd: "Whew, the entire debate had a very tense feel; a combination of two very competitive Democratic candidates and two very tough questioners. Both candidates were put on the spot and survived. ... Overall, it's hard to see this debate as changing the trajectory of this race; Obama was a bit more defensive tonight than last week and had more stumbles tonight than in more recent encounters. Clinton really flubbed that 'SNL' line and she did so early so it made it into a bunch of writeups."
DailyKos' MissLaura: "Watching Clinton's posture as she listens to Obama's last answer, she looks defeated to me. She's just not carrying as much energy and focus in the lines of her body and face when she's not talking. And I think that's the story of the debate. I do think the moderation was at issue, but I also think Obama took this one on the merits, in part because he carried in the energy and confidence of someone who's on an electoral roll."
Time's Joe Klein: "He won. He not only won by not losing, but he also won on points--and on demeanor, and on quickness, if not quite substance (although this was a fairly substantive debate on both sides)."
MyDD's Todd Beeton: "Senator Obama often looked uncomfortable to me up there when not answering. Didn't really project the confidence I'm used to him projecting at the debates lately. Of course while Clinton may have looked more confident and more presidential, several of her lines didn't really work, and Obama's taking the high road may have come off better ultimately. But she certainly appeared to be the very image of the fighter she says she is, not sure it helped her though."
The Campaign Spin: From Obama campaign manager David Plouffe:
"Tonight, Barack Obama showed why he's the one candidate who has the judgment to serve as Commander-in-Chief and can draw a clear contrast on foreign policy with John McCain. Barack Obama opposed this war in Iraq from the start, and said that it would distract us from the terrorists in Afghanistan. When he is President, he will end this war, take the fight to al Qaeda, restore respect for America in the world, and bring this country together to deliver the kind of change that will help struggling families afford health care, stay in their homes, and send their children to college."
From Clinton backer and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland:
"Hillary Clinton showed Ohioans again tonight why she is uniquely qualified to be president and begin turning our economy around on her first day in office. Hillary is the fighter, the doer and the champion Ohio's working families need. No one is better prepared to deliver quality, affordable health care for every American and lead our country as commander in chief."
Clinton Offers Regret For Iraq War: HuffPost's Sam Stein: Hillary Clinton expressed regret for her vote to authorize the Iraq war towards the end of Tuesday night's debate. The statement came after Clinton was asked what one mulligan she wished she had from her time in public office.
"Although my vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again. I would certainly as president not have taken us to war in Iraq and I regret deeply that President Bush waged a preemptive war, which I warned against and said I disagreed with."
Clinton has treaded down this path before, though never apologizing for her vote. But, as noted by several post-debate observers, Tuesday night's response came with a bit more succinctness and, it appeared, sincerity.
The Clinton campaign emails out previous statements from Clinton to make the point that this is not a new claim. A sampling:
2007: Asked if the Iraq vote was her worst mistake as a Senator, Senator Clinton responded, "Well, I think, giving the president authority has turned out to be a terrible decision for everyone, including the president." [ABC, Good Morning America, 1/23/07]
2007: Senator Clinton was asked: "What is the most significant political or professional mistake you have made in the past four years? And what, if anything, did you learn from this mistake which makes you a better candidate?" She responded: "Well, I don't have enough time to tell you all the mistakes I've made in the last many years. Certainly, the mistakes I made around health care were deeply troubling to me and interfered with our ability to get our message out. And, you know, believing the president when he said he would go to the United Nations and put inspectors into Iraq to determine whether they had WMD." [MSNBC, Orangeburg, SC debate, 4/26/07]
Obama Tries For A "Moment" Of His Own: NYT: "Obama says they have gone through 20 debates and 'there is still a lot of fight going on in this contest.' He takes a page from her playbook at the last debate and praises her. 'Senator Clinton has campaigned magnificently,' he says. 'She is an outstanding public servant and I'm very proud to have campaigned with her.' (No handshake, no standing ovation.)"
Obama Denounces -- Then Rejects -- Farrakhan: Obama to Louis Farrakhan: "Thanks, but no thanks."
OBAMA: I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought, and we're not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally with the minister.
RUSSERT: Do you reject his support?
OBAMA: Well, Tim, I can't say to somebody that he can't say that he thinks I'm a good guy. You know, I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements, and I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is it on those comments.
Obama went on to further decry Farrakhan's history of anti-Semitism, and stated that he has been a strong friend of Israel. "The reason I've had such strong support is because I want to rebuild" the connection between "the African-American community and the Jewish community."
What went unsaid is that this afternoon, in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders in Cleveland, Obama staked out a specific position on Israel:
Via the Jerusalem Post:
"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud ap-proach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel," leading Democratic presidential contender Illinois Senator Barack Obama said Sunday.
"If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress," he said.
He also criticized the notion that anyone who asks tough questions about advancing the peace process or tries to secure Israel by anyway other than "just crushing the opposition" is being "soft or anti-Israel."
Then, Clinton asked that Obama both "reject" and "renounce" Farrakhan, which, in the interest of semantics, he did.
First Read notes:
For the word-o-philes out there, Obama wins with the word denounce which is more applicable to use when you find someone's positions distasteful.
re·ject -a verb used as an object...
1. to refuse to have, take, recognize, etc.: to reject the offer of a better job.
2. to refuse to grant (a request, demand, etc.).
de·nounce -verb (used with object), -nounced, -nounc·ing. 1. to condemn or censure openly or publicly: to denounce a politician as morally corrupt.
TPM's Josh Marshall weighed in on the Farrakhan questioning during his live-blog:
10:10 PM ... I guess it's good in some way that this sludge gets thrown around now in advance of the general. But Russert is well beyond the normal bounds of disgusting on this front. As a separate matter, the covert campaign to smear Obama with the Jewish community is a topic of great importance that I've been meaning to hit on and haven't done enough on it yet. At least we know now that Russert's enlisted with the cause.
10:13 PM ... I thought for a moment there that Hillary was going to say something classy. Guess I was wrong.
10:22 PM ... Having thought over that whole Obama/Russert exchange on Farrakhan, that was really ... well, bringing up Farrakhan was one thing, borderline, but maybe fair. But trying to read into the record some of the guy's most toxic statement, it really takes Russert into a whole new level of awfulness. It was disgusting.
Russert Gets Animated Over Iraq: Tim Russert channeled his inner-Iraqi legislature during the Iraqi policy portion of Tuesday night's debate. Getting a bit animated, the Meet the Press moderator offered a down-the-road hypothetical involving a residual American force (which both candidate's support) being left in Iraq against the country's will.
"No. Get out. Get out now," Russert said, playing the imaginary Iraqi government figure. "If you don't want to stay and protect us, we're a sovereign nation. Go home now."
The role-playing, thankfully, ended there.
Name That Russian Leader: Russert asks Clinton, who's the new leader of Russia?
In a question reminiscent of one that tripped up then-candidate George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign, Russert asks about the man who is about to become president of Russia.
"What can you tell me" about him, he asks Clinton.
She describes how the new president is the "hand-picked" successor of Vladimir Putin and how Putin has bypassed most democratic processes.
And what is the incoming president's name? "Med ven dev... whatever," Clinton says. (The man's name: Dmitry Medvedev.)
Obama Addresses Clinton Mocking Him: "Shown a clip of Clinton mocking him this weekend for his rhetorical skills and calls for unity -- 'celestial choirs' will sing -- she said, Obama gives her points for 'good humor (and) ... delivery.'"
"I am absolutely clear that hope is not enough," Obama adds, to fix problems with health care, energy and other issues. "But what I also believe is that the only way we are actually going to get this stuff done ... (is to) mobilize and inspire the American people (and) ... go after the special interests."
Clinton: Obama Wants To Bomb Pakistan: Hillary Clinton, echoing John McCain's statements on the same matter, suggested that Obama wanted to "bomb Pakistan." In fact, that's not even close to the truth.
OBAMA: I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America. This requires a broader set of capabilities, as outlined in the Army and Marine Corps's new counter-insurgency manual. I will ensure that our military becomes more stealth, agile, and lethal in its ability to capture or kill terrorists. We need to recruit, train, and equip our armed forces to better target terrorists, and to help foreign militaries to do the same.
There is nothing in Obama's speech, or any other Obama speech, about "bombing" Pakistan. Both implicitly and explicitly, he called for small, Special Operations-type incursions.
One minute later, Clinton offered, "I have long advocated a much tougher approach to Musharraf and to Pakistan and have pushed the White House to do that." Tougher than bombing them?
Clinton Getting Raw Deal From Moderators? Politico's Ben Smith:
I sometimes find the Clinton campaign's complaints about the media hard to take, but that was a bit of an SNL re-enactment.
Russert just grilled Clinton, hard, on Nafta, and on her unfilled pledge to bring jobs to Upstate New York.
Williams' question to Obama on experience: "How were her comments about you unfair?"
Clinton Faces More Booing After Referencing SNL Skit: Sen. Hillary Clinton, lamenting the soft coverage with which she believes Sen. Obama has been treated, tried out a new line of attack during the debate on Tuesday night. It fell more than a bit flat and was met with some mild boos.
Speaking after a 16-minute exchange on health care between the two Democratic presidential candidate, Clinton rhetorically asked why she always is given the first question in these forums. Then, playing off of a Saturday Night Live sketch that parodied the press' infatuation with Obama, she offered this bit:
"Well, could I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time? And I don't mind. You know, I'll be happy to field them but I do find it curious. And if anybody saw Saturday Night Live, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow."
The crowd really didn't respond. There was, what sounded like some hisses and, if you listen carefully, several boos. A much harsher reaction occurred to a Clinton attack on Obama in last Thursday's debate, in which she claimed that Obama's borrowing of words was not "Change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox."
Candidates Clash Over Iraq: "The war in Iraq -- long a dormant issue in the Democratic primary fight campaign -- roared back to relevance in tonight's debate as the two candidates clashed about whose experience better equipped them to face off against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the general election," The Fix's Chris Cillizza writes.
"Senator Clinton equates experience with longevity in Washington," said Obama, adding that "on the critical issues that actually matter I believe my judgment has been sound and it has been superior to Senator Clinton and Senator McCain."
Clinton pushed back as hard as she has at any point in the campaign, arguing that Obama's original speech in opposition to the war was essentially a hollow act because he has done little to follow up since being elected to the Senate in 2004.
"He's to be commended for having given the speech," said Clinton. "When he came to the Senate he and I have voted exactly the same. When we both had responsibility, when it wasn't just a speech it was action where is the difference?" ...
Obama, showing he is up to the fight, launched a broadside of his own against Clinton -- arguing that her 2002 vote for the Iraq use-of-force resolution amounted to complicity with President Bush's misguided plans. "She was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue," Obama said.
Back And Forth Over NAFTA: NYT's The Caucus notes:
Moderator Tim Russert and Mrs. Clinton get into a dispute over her view of Nafta. He says that in 2004, she said that on balance, Nafta has been good for New York and good for America. Mrs. Clinton says she'll renegotiate Nafta. And she'll tell Mexico and Canada that we'll be out unless we renegotiate it. She also says that lots of parts of New York and Texas have benefited from the trade agreement but places like Youngstown, Ohio have not. Mr. Russert asks if she would opt out within six months of becoming president.
"We'll opt out unless we renegotiate," she says, and she is certain that given that option, Mexico and Canada would renegotiate.
As for Mr. Obama, he says he too would make sure we renegotiate the treaty and that Mrs. Clinton is right. (She's also right that it seems as if she often has to answer debate questions before he does, but that may not be a winning argument with voters.)
Clinton, Obama Address Photo Of Obama In Africa: HuffPost's Jason Linkins has details, and the video, here.
Clinton Asked About Different Tones Towards Obama: "Off the bat, MSNBC airs two, contradictory images of Mrs. Clinton: First, they show her saying humbly at the end of the last debate that she was 'honored' to be on the stage with Mr. Obama. Then, they show the 'Shame on you, Barack Obama,' clip from the weekend where Mrs. Clinton blasted Mr. Obama for sending fliers to Ohio voters that she called misleading and false."
Mrs. Clinton is asked to explain the disparate images. She said his fliers were "very disturbing to me" and said it was "important to stand up for yourself." And what about that picture of Mr. Obama Did it come from her campaign? "So far as I know, it did not," she said. Mr. Obama says he takes her at her word about the photo. But he also says that her campaign has constantly sent out negative or inaccurate information about him, he just hasn't "whined" about it.
Will This Be Their Final Face-Off?: The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza notes:
After 19 debates spanning the better part of the last year, tonight's one on one between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton could be the last time the two appear on stage together for some time.
The debate -- set on the campus of Cleveland State University and sponsored by MSNBC -- comes at a critical juncture in the Democratic presidential race. Not only is it occurring one week before the Ohio and Texas primaries, it also comes amid widespread questions regarding the shakiness of Clinton's position in the race and what she will do if she loses one (or both contests) next Tuesday.
The Ohio Debate Primer On Trade: Ohio is a state that has been hit hard by trade-related job losses and wage cuts. The economy will certainly be center-stage tonight at the debate:
In the lead-up to this debate, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been sparring over the North American Free Trade Agreement -- a proxy battle over the larger issue of trade. Undoubtedly, this NAFTA argument will bleed into the Tuesday night debate, and so here's an objective look at the issue of trade and the records of both candidates that you might want to keep next to you as the rhetoric starts to fly.
Read more of the Ohio debate primer on trade here.
NAFTA Looms Large: Both candidates are likely to claim that they oppose NAFTA, but this could be a dubious claim:
Obama touted the benefits of the trade deal with Canada and Mexico when he was running for his Senate seat, and if Clinton had reservations about NAFTA, she kept them to herself when her husband made it one of his presidency's top priorities.
Debate Should Focus On Both Candidates:While all eyes will certainly be on Clinton tonight, The Washington Post's Dan Balz says there are questions Obama needs to answer as well:
Can he truly be the candidate of MoveOn.org and red-state politicians alike? Have those at different ends of the Democratic political spectrum attributed to him positions -- on issues ranging from Iraq to health care to the economy -- that are compatible with their own views, but not with the other's?
Is there any major issue upon which he parts company with the big labor unions or has he adopted their agenda in totality? More broadly, where has he shown a willingness to take on some of his own party's constituencies, and if he's not willing to do so, how can he suggest that he can bring Republicans and independents into a governing coalition?
Obama Tamps Down Expectations: The candidate rips of a few sports cliches:
"Let's play to win, but let's make sure that we are maintaining the kind of campaign that win or lose we will be proud of afterwards," Obama said dampening down pre-game hype during a press availability in Cleveland Ohio, "I think that's probably a good note for all of us to take."
Obama's Grilling: If Obama has some tough questions to answer, he will be in good practice after fielding questions from local Jewish community leaders:
Those in attendance got right to the point, asking Obama about just about every topic that has so far caused some qualms about him in some quarters of the country's Jewish community, qualms that could pose a real problem for him in the general election in crucial states like Florida: about the outspoken pastor of his church and his link to Louis Farrakhan, about Obama's views on Palestinians, about the e-mails passing the false allegation that he is a Muslim, and about his plans for opening greater dialogue with the Muslim world, including with Iran.
Obama's answers were, on several points, more expansive than just about anything he has offered on the subject in the past. He distanced himself somewhat from his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, saying he was "like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with," and he condemned Farrakhan, who received an award from a church publication and last weekend endorsed Obama. He also distanced himself from his informal foreign policy adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former Carter national security adviser, who has upset some Jewish leaders with his endorsement of the authors of a recent book about the "Israel lobby." At the same time, though, Obama lamented some of the limits imposed on the debate over the Israel-Palestine question within the U.S.
Advantage: Hillary?: So says New York Magazine:
"Meet me in Ohio" was Hillary Clinton's challenge to Barack Obama over the weekend. Never mind that the two were already scheduled to debate there tonight ("See you Tuesday!" would have been less dramatic). Their last debate before the mini-Super Tuesday primaries on March 4 -- and, perhaps, their last ever -- promises an airing of issues connected to health care and NAFTA, both of which Clinton and Obama have been recently feuding over. In mailers and speeches, Obama has claimed that Clinton supports NAFTA and sending working families into poverty with her health-care mandates. Clinton disagrees. And the popular opinion actually seems to favor her position -- take that, SNL!
The Stakes Couldn't Be Higher: The Columbus Dispatch sets the tone for what's on the line:
On the line is Sen. Hillary Clinton's continued presidential viability. Losses in Ohio and Texas a week from today could effectively kill her chances of winning the nomination against Sen. Barack Obama, who has reeled off 11 straight wins.
"Clearly for Clinton and Obama, the stakes are much higher here than any other debate," said former U.S. Rep. Dennis Eckart, a Cleveland Democrat. "Obama can close it out on March 4 (or) Clinton can live to fight another day on March 4. All of that comes to a head in this debate."
Tonight's Clinton Strategy: Politico sketches out tonight's strategy for a Clinton campaign that has been struggling to find a message that will stick against her opponent:
At Tuesday night's debate in Ohio, aides are mapping plans for drawing persistent attention to Obama's record without attempting any knock-out punch theatrics that could backfire.
Many recent decisions have done exactly that. This has left the campaign awash in anger over who is to blame.
Communications chief Howard Wolfson--echoing a strong belief of the Clintons themselves--blamed the news media Monday for allegedly tossing bouquets to Obama whenever he criticizes Clinton but writing that she is throwing low blows whenever she draws contrasts with him.
Debate Preview: MSNBC outlines what to expect from tonight's debate:
The $64,000 question is: Which Hillary shows up -- the one we saw at the end of the Austin debate, or Ms. "Xerox" and "Shame on you, Barack Obama"? Certainly, this unknown tone she'll take at tonight's debate has a way of forcing Obama to be prepared for anything. It's not a bad place for her to be, in control of the tenor of this debate. Of course, is there such thing, after 20 debates, as a knockout blow anymore? Maybe not for Clinton but possibly for Obama. If he handles all of her shots, then he could put this thing away. If he wobbles, it could be a long six days for the front-runner. And keep in mind: The debate will be broadcast on all of the NBC affiliates in Ohio, and with weather likely to keep folks inside, there's a captive audience. More importantly, if you want a clue as to which Clinton is showing up tonight, think about this fact: Not a single Clinton TV ad is negative on Obama right now, in either Ohio or Texas.
The Basics: Local paper The Plain Dealer has the info:
Where to watch: At 9 p.m. on NBC affiliates throughout Ohio, MSNBC and live-streamed at MSNBC.com. The debate will run 90 minutes.
Moderators: NBC's "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert, who graduated from CSU's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1976 and received a undergraduate from John Carroll University; NBC "Nightly News" host Brian Williams.
The audience: The large arena has been shrunk to an intimate theater holding 1,600 seats. The bulk of the tickets were distributed through each campaign. Most of the 542 journalists who applied for credentials will not be allowed watch the event from the floor.
Debate format: No rules. OK, a few. Candidates will be asked to limit their responses to a reasonable length. There are no opening or closing statements.
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