Greetings from the Lone Star State! Tonight finds our heroes in Austin, Texas, for a debate that Hillary Clinton really needs to win and Barack Obama just needs to hold. That's the opposite of our headline — because Hillary started out leading in Texas, but has seen her lead sucked away by Obama over the past disastrous few weeks since Super Tuesday, also known as The Day Past Which Clinton Had Absolutely No Plan. The lessons of Donald Rumsfeld, unlearned. Tonight, the two are basically deadlocked — Clinton has a statistically-meaningless lead of 2%, as opposed to her commanding 20-point lead of a month ago — and you'd have to have been under a rock for the month of February not to know how things are trending. All things being equal, it seems likely that Barack will sweep Texas on a wave of Obamomentum — what Hillary needs is for things to upend, and to win this debate decisively, like she used to do (with regularity). Who knows what will happen — we don't, and that's precisely why we've liveblogging it! No liveblog left behind, people, we're fired up and ready to go. Tonight we're excited to have super-fantastic political analyst and media/tech consultant Hilary Rosen, who is actually ON LOCATION in Austin; communication consulant and liveblog stalwart John Neffinger, HuffPo contributor and other liveblog stalwart Glynnis MacNicol, and me — your moderator — HuffPo media editor Rachel Sklar. Together, we know we can change this liveblog. Yes, we can. Liveblog you can believe in! Okay, here we go.
7:55 PM Hilary: Chelsea in da house!
7:59 PM Rachel: Hi!
8:01 PM Hilary: Am i allowed to question Campbell's outfit? polka dots?? Rachel: Wow, seems like a happenin'!
Yes you can!
(To quote a certain candidate)
But, I like 'em!
Here comes Hillary! Entering first so Obama's cheers won't drown her out.
Except that the cheering is pretty even!
8:02 PM How does it feel to be there, Hilary? What's the vibe? Who are you sitting with? With whom are you sitting?
This feels....happy. Uplifting. Maybe it won't be so hellishly evil between them.
8:03 PM Hilary: I am sitting in Press room number one. Next to Dan Kowalkis from Huff Post, in front of Andrea Mitchell of NBC Mike Duffy of Time and Richard Wolfe of Newsweek are right down he isle. The buzz here early on is that tonight makes or breaks Hillary's chances in Texas. Hilary: Reporters are hunting for blood tonight
8:05 PM John: Out for blood? Loaded for bear? Hunting big game? Rachel: Meet each other! John Neffinger, Hilary Rosen.
Glynnis is coming. John: Sorry, we're not live, I'm just getting it out of my system. Rachel: Er, right. Not live! Hilary: All of those macho metaphors, which don't favor a female candidate Rachel: First impression: Bad outfit choice for Hillary. She doesn't stand out in it. What happened to her bright, confident colors? If she wants to blaze as brightly as Barack, she needs to pull out every stop.
8:06 PM John: Ok, Hillary wardrobe watch...
I was just goin' there.
Very regal, however. Powerful black, gold trim. Rachel: Concilatory start - it's almost like a stump speech. She's talking about her Texan experiences, invoking towering Texan lionesses - Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards.
8:07 PM Hilary: Nice touch about Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards. Both beloved here. Hillary seems a little nervous Rachel: I don't love how Obama never seems to be paying attention to her as she talks. I feel like decorum is very important. Even in a rough-and-tumble campaign like this. John: Oh man, if Hillary Clinton could channel one drop of Ann Richards' moxie, she would have won this race last year. Hilary: The audience sees pretty evenly balanced between the two Rachel: The one flash of color on the stage in Barack's tie.
8:08 PM Hillary: "It's okay to discriminate against sick people - and we're going to end that." Interesting way of looking at it, and entirely true. Also okay to discriminate against poor people. Hilary: Barack heard Rachel and lifted his head John: And boring people.
8:09 PM Rachel: I feel uncomfortable hearing her implore them to join her campaign. Hilary: Interesting, he looks nervous too
8:10 PM John: A very poised opening statement from Hillary. Nice smiling, which helps to counter the somber attire. A shade too poised though. Thought there might have been a teleprompter just off camera. Rachel: Back to Barack. Also concilatory. This is the second time that we were expecting fireworks at a debate and instead they were civil.
Keeping it to issues: "I met a woman who gets three hours of sleep a night!" Hey, I don't remember meeting Obama! Hilary: They both jump into the issues. I would have thought a little more context, a little more fluff to start Rachel: Is that a five o'clock shadow? Is that a Barack-stache?
8:11 PM Hilary: It is a stache!! John: Barack look tired. He's slumped forward just slightly bit in his chair. Hilary: She just gave him a fake Nancy Reagan adoring look
8:12 PM Rachel: Obama is paraphrasing Mitt here - Washington is broken!
I'm misty for Mitt. Mittsty? Hilary: George Lopez es in la casa Hilary: Esta?
8:13 PM John: Barack started in a little early with the constituent stories. But he has the first memorable line of the night: 'Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die.' Hilary: His opening a bit more scattershot Rachel: Ay caramba! Hablo espagnol! The Univision element emphasizes that there's a big, decisive constituency watching right now. Rachel: Would Hillary sit down with Raoul Castro?
She said she's gonna look for signs of change. Ending oppression etc.
She'd be ready to work with a new Cuban government.
CIGARS FOR EVERYONE! Hilary: Should we sit down with foreign leaders who make us mad? Si. Pero no muy rapido.
Glynnis has joined
8:15 PM Hilary: Si or no? no. Glynnis: Hi Everyone! Hilary: Florida Florida Florida
8:16 PM Rachel: I think Campbell looks stunning.
The camera loooooooves her. Glynnis: Okay - off the top, I like Hillary's outfit. Her collar is very Elizabeth the First. Or Princess Leia circa the cloud planet. Rachel: Wow, I am REALLY distracted by the Barack-stache. Hilary: She is right to explain that a presidential visit should be contingent on progress. but most folks just think that meetings are good not bad. her message here may be too foreign policy subtle
8:17 PM John: She should explain it in terms of throwing him a party. You can't have a state visit without a party. Hilary: John McCain will kill him on this naiveté John: Ahem.
8:18 PM Glynnis: Not to harp on appearances, but Barack has got some serious 5 o'clock shadow going on. Hilary: But folks don't equate Cuba with the dangerousness of Iran John: I am totally outnumbered, aren't I? Glynnis: Barack apparently wants to go to Cuba. As a Canadian I can go there any time...just saying.
8:19 PM Hilary: it is clear that whoever answers first on these questions, does better. Because they both agree on most things
8:20 PM Rachel: The only thing they don't agree on is who should be president! Glynnis: Seeing the two of them sitting together begs the question: who looks more presidential? Hilary: i think they both look presidential. Hillary seems much more animated. Barack needs a red bull
He is frowny
8:21 PM Glynnis: He definitely needs a red bull!
Hi Hilary (Rosen!) Hilary: Hi Glynnis
One "L" for me
8:22 PM Glynnis: One L for me, too! John: Barack continues to look a little funny in this sitting format. He cocks his head drastically to the side to look at Hillary and the panel of questioners. Having his head straight up on his shoulders projects much more strength, would look more Presidential. Hilary: Everyone is wearing black tonight. hmmm Rachel: Ha - requiem for a hope in hell of a united Dem party? Glynnis: Man - do they both look exhausted.
8:23 PM Rachel: Media observation: John King has really broken out on CNN this campaign season. Hilary: "People have been struggling for decades"? what does that mean Rachel: Feminist observation: CNN is the only debate-host that has had a female lead moderator.
8:24 PM I can count three women involved in moderating these debates: Campbell, Natalie Morales and Suzanne Malveaux. Hilary: Media feminist retort. the five correspondents covering the campaign for CNN are all women. The red and blue teams as well as candy Rachel: Point taken. And the Iowa debate lady who everyone was mean to. Hilary: lol
8:25 PM Rachel: Flashback to what a jerk Fred Thompson was.
Okay then. Hilary: She gets fifteen minutes every four years as editor of the Des Moines Register Rachel: You mean it wasn't her first time???? Glynnis: Hillary looks like a school teacher when she takes notes and purses her lips like that.
Hilary: What is a working coalition for change on the economy? What DOES THAT MEAN???
8:27 PM Hillary gives more specifics. Tucker told me today that that is sonorous. I think he actually used that word
8:28 PM Rachel: Sonorous or somnolent? John: Yeah, she is wonkin' out.
He's Mr. Sonorous.
8:29 PM Rachel: She's listing off issues. Infrastructure! Last August's issue, today!
Can I just say something: IS ANYONE EVER GOING TO TALK ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE???? John: Hillary is doing a pretty good job of smiling tonight. It doesn't take much, it warms her up significantly. Glynnis: Hillary saying she wants to end "George Bush's war on science" gets a HUGE applause. John: They are in Texas.
8:30 PM Don't mess. Hilary: Texas is big on science Rachel: Don't mess with science. John: And guns. Glynnis: Campbell tries to point out to Hillary that there's lots of issues to get to, Hillary keeps on rolling. Rachel: This is the
8:32 PM John: Man, I used to think she spoke in complete paragraphs. Tonight she's speaking in complete white papers. Hilary: She does well with the immigration question answer Glynnis: Hillary is for a path to immigration.
8:33 PM Hilary: He gets tot he heart of he rhetoric on immigration. his instincts are so good here. making it personal is the right way to go Glynnis: Hillary is far more energetic tonight than Obama.
8:34 PM I agree, when he says this is a country of immigrants, it resonates without him having to qualify it. Hilary: Hillary nods and pays attention to Obama when he is talking. That makes her seem both nicer and deferential. One is good, one isn't
8:36 PM John: Very true, and very noticeable. Glynnis: Obama seems less intent on impressing tonight, not sure if it's because he's so obviously tired or if he's feeling his front runner status.
8:37 PM Rachel: "There is a smart way to protect our borders, and there is a dumb way to protect our borders." Good line.
WHAT? Fighting about the northern border??? Glynnis: Who's Hillary been fighting with over the northern border! Rachel: Who's pickin' on Canada? Glynnis: The SNL cast?
8:38 PM Hilary: Glynnis is right, Obama seems almost casual John: Here she is leaning back and to one side in her chair, very comfortably. It is a nice counterweight to the rest of the formality in her demeanor. She loosens up her language too: a smart way to defend the border and a dumb way.
Glynnis: Obama comes across as almost dismissive when Hillary is talking.
Hilary: He risks seeming arrogant.
Rachel: The fence is the dumbest freaking idea ever.
Hilary: Smart fencing?
Rachel: "Smart fencing" - with respect - that is an oxymoron.
Glynnis: He almost always refuses to look at her, and I swear when the camera cut to him just now he was doodling.
8:39 PM John: Smart bombs? Smart cards?
Rachel: Smart water?
Hilary: She is still in this election. I think people will respond to that. her earnestness is more charming tonight
8:40 PM Glynnis: She is very earnest tonight! Good word - I was trying to put my finger on it.
8:41 PM John: She does not look beaten, it's true. He is notably more tired, less energetic, although his casual mode is comfortable and engaging too.
Glynnis: Obama is right: the idea of deporting twelve million people IS ridiculous.
I think his casual mode is a little cocky.
8:42 PM Rachel: Glynnis and I just had an offline conversation. She said, "Look at them! Don't they look like president and vice-president? They look great!" I said, "Write that!" She said, "I feel scared to write nice things about her." I know what she means. We've both been hammered in the comments section the past two days over Hillary-related blog posts.
Not a fan of the vitriol.
Hilary: Don't worry. There are plenty of people out there who resent the Hillary haters.
8:43 PM Glynnis: John is amazed that Hillary is still nodding along to Obama comments, but I think Hillary is probably very used to sitting beside a rock-star-ish candidate who gets all the attention.
8:44 PM Hilary: That is a nice way to talk about it. English is our unifying language. it is not anti-Spanish but it speaks to the common interest
8:45 PM the nodding is now looking way too deferential
but she clearly is looking for an opening so maybe she is storing up "nice" points
8:46 PM John: Looking too deferential is a big danger. It's okay to second what he is saying if he is making a point she has not gotten to, but tricky.
Hilary: Campbell's polka dots are growing on me.
Glynnis: I only just clued in to the fact that Campbell is running the show tonight!!
8:49 PM Hilary: is this all going on the website?
8:50 PM Glynnis: John King called them out on their duplicitous manners.
8:51 PM Apparently, they are less polite when they are not face to face.
And then he calls Hillary out on her "all hat, no cattle" line.
But, Hillary is going to play nice. Basically.
8:52 PM Hilary: Hillary fearlessly responds to King's point. There are differences between them.
She isn't shying away from her actions. That is good. she can't. We will see what Obama does
Glynnis: Obama is SO obviously doodling! while she is talking.
8:53 PM John: King's pointed question was whether she could still call Obama short on substance after the last 45 minutes of him wonking out proposal-for-proposal with her.
Rachel: Great question. Especially since this has been a substantive debate thus far. He's not breaking out the oratory, he's not talking from 30,000 feet., and he's focused and serious. It's a great way of focusing a big campaign issue into a specific example. Point Barack.
Glynnis: Hillary: actions speak louder than words.
Rachel: Alrighty then, point Hillary.
Hilary: Oooooh. First shot. On the Obama surrogate accomplishments gaffe
Glynnis: The audience likes that.
8:54 PM John: She is not nodding as he lists his legislative accomplishments.
Hilary: Earmarks. Silly he has worked to get them as much as any senator
Hilary: He is turning her criticisms of him into criticisms of his supporters. That is smart of him. We will see if she responds well
Rachel: He's saying, dude, my supporters are not delusional. I direct your attention to the last ten states...
Glynnis: Obama starts talking about his endorsements. He is sounding a tad too cocky.
8:56 PM John: Hillary was comporting herself nicely as Obama was talking here, smiling confidently. When he mentioned being endorsed by "every major newspaper in the state of Texas," she tried to stick with the smile, but it got conspicuously tighter.
Glynnis: Obama: This campaign has done so well because it's not just a matter of policy positions.
8:57 PM Hilary: It is clear that these two talk past each other when it comes to this solutions vs talk axis.
Rachel:WaPo's Chris Cillizza just sent out a halftime report and noted that they really don't disagree on much. Barack even said "Senator Clinton and I both agree on many of these issues."
Rachel: Campbell is asking about the lifting from Deval Patrick. Okay, maybe they don't agree on that one.
Hilary: He has been campaigning for TWO years??? You mean when he hadn't decided he was running?
8:58 PM Glynnis: It's not that Obama shouldn't be proud of his endorsements, he just doesn't wear cocky well. He comes off as ungracious.
Rachel: 'The Rule of Underdog' - everyone does better as one.
8:59 PM Rachel: Barack on his speeches: "I've gotta admit, some of them are pretty good."
What was it that the Patriots wore on their jerseys? "Be humble or be humbled?" (I know, I know, that didn't exactly work out for them. But I have found my mind wandering back to that slogan for the past few weeks, in this and many other contexts. What a great motto.)
Glynnis: Hillary's looking a little down right now. Ouch.
John calls it resignation. And that's what it looks like.
9:00 PM Rachel: But she's good at bouncing. She's good at being an underdog.
"CHANGE YOU CAN XEROX"
Hilary: I am surprised Hillary didn't let this go. Change you can xerox
Glynnis: CHANGE YOU CAN XEROX. "No, Barack, it is."
And she addresses him directly! Good for her.
He won't even look at her.
John: Owch. I don't think that worked for her, but that might just be a Rorshach
Rachel: See, that worked for me, but I know enough from the comments on my post that a lot of people don't.
9:01 PM Hilary: She got our attention. Good segue onto her turf
9:02 PM She also got to him. In Texas we can see the steam coming out of his ears.
John: That was not resignation on her face. Now we know, she was thinking "I'm gonna have to use this line."
Rachel:There have not been many of those lines, by the way - zingers. I think that's good.
9:03 PM John: She is not happy it has come to this either, I think. But she's gotta do what she feels like she's gotta do.
9:04 PM Hilary: He is right to get to the issues and not prolong the plagiarism issue but his health care explanation just isn't that good. We are on her turf now.
Rachel: Clinton believes in universal health care that is universal; Obama believes in universal health care that is optional.
Glynnis: Hillary does not find it necessary to occupy herself while Obama is talking. She's quite comfortable looking directly at him, and I find that a reassuring quality in a presidential candidate.
Hilary: She needs to say that the same opponents before would be the opponents now
John: Dude, you don't remember when she scared the hell out of him and couldn't bring himself to look over at her?
9:08 PM Glynnis: What does that say about a presidential candidate if he can't look at at co-candidate in the eye. What will he do if Putin glares at him! Or Hu Jintao?
9:10 PM Hilary: Glynnis, it is permissible for men to act dismissively of women. If she were doodling while he was speaking, she would be characterized as the rhymes with ditch word
Glynnis: [nice Hilary!]
9:11 PM Hilary: Let's get back to health care
Glynnis: We are back to the moderators baiting the candidates.
But Hillary is biting! We are back to health care.
9:12 PM John: Ok, you're right. He is totally doodling. He just made a bunch of squiggles and then a box or some other quadrilateral thingy.
Glynnis: Campbell isn't having it.
Hilary: I am desperately trying to be balanced here tonight. He is smooth, smart and has a good grasp of issues that matter. But I am having trouble getting past his 'tude.
Glynnis: Obama isn't having that! He's going back to health care, too.
9:13 PM John: Maybe it's a zen thing. Photogenic fidgeting.
Glynnis: The audience sounds as though it's equally divided between the two of them.
9:14 PM Hillary is NOT changing topics: This the the number one issue people come to me with.
Obama is on the weaker ground here. This issue puts him on the defensive and it's her strength.
9:15 PM Hilary: Hillary talking personal. This is good. Health care is good for her. He keeps trying to tell us that his plan for universal health care is better than universal health care even if it isn't universal health care. People like him in spite of this dumb strategy. He should move on.
Rachel: Jorge Ramos = Hott-ay Ramos
Hilary: I like Jorge
9:16 PM Glynnis: Jorge looks like he should be be on Telemundo, Telenova. He is very good-looking!
9:18 PM John: For the record, there is a little more to the health care debate than that. He did not do a great job of talking about the mechanical issues,but mostly just stuck to the larger point about wanting universal care too.
This explains some of these health care issues further.
Rachel: Thanks John. That's one of their major differences, and it's on a pretty important Dem issue, so more info is always good.
9:19 PM Glynnis: Here comes the Iraq vote!
Hilary: Her specifics on the commander-in chief question sounds good. His reply. Trust me. Well maybe it is comforting even if it isn't particularly specific. The war in Iraq. The only place he could go with this answer.
Glynnis: But Obama doesn't elicit the response from the crowd that I think he was gunning for.
9:21 PM John: This is dangerous turf for Hillary. She has continued to show bad judgment in not explaining herself clearly about her Iraq vote but continuing to talk about the issue as long as anyone will listen.
9:22 PM Rachel: Well, no one can call her a panderer!
Hilary: We want to get out of iraq. There is no reason to make this a long answer. This is a mistake
9:24 PM Glynnis: Hillary just said this is what "I WOULD do upon taking office." Before she always used to say "will,": this is what I WILL do. Small but noticeable change.
Rachel: Oh wow, great catch Glyn. A far cry from telling Katie Couric "It will be me."
John: But she needs to show us how much smarter she is than everyone else. That is now explicitly the case for her campaign.
9:26 PM That may just be the loss of frontrunner's privilege. That has gone the way of inevitability.
Hilary: John McCain would have a field day with his comment that it is our fault that we have enemies.
9:27 PM John: Did he just say that, or are you just sayin'?
Hilary: i think he just said that
9:28 PM John: You being Hil(l)ary #2 tonight, doing a little pinch-hitting?
Rachel: Hilary what's the feeling like there? What are the asides of the crowd like?
9:29 PM Hilary: Sitting in the press room, folks are restless. They think not much news is being made. and if not much news is being made, this debate looks like a draw. That isn't good enough for her.
9:30 PM John: True. He is not shining here, and she is smiling well and coming across alright, but nothing seismic is happening.
Hilary: i just heard several folks say that Barack didn't bring his A-game. And that he seems less comfortable talking about foreign affairs. Maybe I am trying to be too balanced. :)
9:31 PM John: If she can keep Texas and Ohio like she kept California and Massachusetts though, that would be enough.
Ha. Yeah, it's all good. if he said that about our enemies the way you did, he hasn't heard the last of it.
9:33 PM Sitting here with Rachel and Glynnis though, there is a very girls vs. guys vibe goin' on here.
Glynnis: It is twelve LONG days until the Texas/Ohio primary and I think he is just a tad too confident - it is not an appealing quality about him. He needs to practice just a bit of humility.
9:34 PM Hilary: She has now leaned away. i think she knows she needs to score in the second half
borrow money from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis. That is good
9:35 PM John: Very very bad, actually. Good line though, yes.
9:37 PM Glynnis: Hillary says the Democratic party will stay united and be victorious.
Hilary: Obama gives a public warning to the superdelegates - listen to the primaries
Glynnis: Obama says that he and Hillary are working so hard these primaries and caucuses have to count for something.
John: Not exactly a horse head in the bed, but hey.
9:38 PM Hilary: Obama does well talking about our dreams and higher purpose.
Glynnis: The American people are tired of hearing about how tired we are!
At least this Canadian is.
Hilary: ha. good point. is he dragging us down to lift us up?
9:40 PM John: That was her "I'm your girl" smile again.
Glynnis: Hillary smiles BIG through the question: what was the moment in your life you were tested the most.
Rachel: "My husband's a cheater - if you're all gonna bring it up then I am too."
9:41 PM Glynnis: And then she says people ask her all the time: How do you do it? Well actually, one woman asked that in NH (read: tears moment), is she reminding us of that sympathy moment?
9:42 PM And now she takes it back to the Iraq veterans.
John: She's misting again.
Rachel: Handshake! Dream ticket handshake!
John: She is honestly feeling it. Good for her.
9:43 PM Rachel: "Whatever happens, we're gonna be fine." She's a one-woman unity party.
Glynnis: Hillary just initiated the most personal moment in any debate. And that finale will own the coverage.
John: He finally broke down and is nodding along.
Rachel: ...and she's getting a standing O???
Hilary: Obama's closing was a bit disjointed. But he ended nicely. Hillary is not compelling as a victim. Her ending was really excellent. He could have used some of her grace tonight.
Rachel: Barack isn't great at masking it when he's nonplussed.
9:44 PM WOW. She got the closer. Wow. Do not count a Clinton out, man, she pulled that out from nowhere.
Hilary: They both got the standing O. But it was because she brought the conversation back to their common purpose and need for unity.
9:45 PM There wasn't a definitive winner tonight until the end. She took it up a notch.
9:46 PM Glynnis: The difference, I think, is that when Hillary isn't pleased she looks disproving like a mother or school teacher. When Obama isn't pleased he looks like a petulant little boy.
Hilary: Thanks for hosting me Rachel. Goodbye Glynnis and John! I am off to the spin room.
John: And he spent a lot more time looking not pleased tonight.
9:47 PM Goodbye! Happy spinning!
9:53 PM Glynnis: Bye Hilary! Lovely to blog with you!
Rachel: And that's it for tonight - we'll see if this moves the needle. Either way, they both had a better day than John McCain. Goodnight everybody!
Update: Interesting framing from Eugene Robinson later on MSNBC, who looked at the debate from this perspective: "How does Barack Obama handle the fact that he could win, and how does Hillary Clinton handle the fact that she could lose?" Smart take.
See more information, pundit reactions, videos and quotes from the debate at HuffPo's Texas Debate resource page here.