Liveblog! The ABC Debates, From On Site (If Not Online)

10/28/2008 04:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Greetings from New Hamshire! No, really, half of this trusty liveblog team is in New Hampshire, on site at St. Anslem College where tonight "ABC World News" anchor Charlie Gibson moderates the ABC/WMUR-TV/Facebook back-to-back Democratic and Republican presidential debates — easily the longest debates in both length and words required to describe them. First up is the GOP, or what's left of it, according to ABC criteria: Rudy Giuliani, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and — oh, darn, did we forget one? — ah, yes, Mike Huckabee. Not so forgettable now, is he? Though blessedly we seem rid of the scourge of Alan Keyes, who shan't assault your eardrums with his escalating rants again. God bless the process of elimination!

So: As I said, two of us are actually on-site here — Glynnis MacNicol and me, Rachel Sklar — and let's set the stage a litte. For those of you wrote the SATs, it feels like that: A giant gymnasium with rows and rows of cafeteria tables and people looking vaguely stressed-out and under-slept, except here everyone is furiously typing away at laptops and the room is lined with giant TVs and right now the voice of Ron Paul is shrieking into my head, something about the Consitution. But, there's food (platters of deli sandwiches — and soup!) and all sorts of boldface journo types if you know where to look (we sort of do (Time editor Rick Stengel, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, New Yorker political reporter Ryan Lizza, Gawker evacuee Choire Sicha) and sort of don't (Kit Seelye, Adam Nagourney, Matts Bai and Taibbi). So far it's a focused and studious group, though it was pretty amazing to hear the room say "ooooh!" in unison when Huckabee zinged Romney on flip flopping (Romney talks about his position; Huckabee says "which one?" OUCH.) All that and more awaits below in this latest installment of the HuffPo Liveblog Series, which today will be blogged by your trusty team of me and Glynnis plus liveblog stalwarts John Neffinger and Will Thomas (sadly not pictured, our bad), who will kick us off as Glynnis and I try to pluck a wireless signal out of thin air — the same place from whence came Mike Huckabee's lead. Onward!

7:11 PM John: Hey Will.
Will: hey
7:12 PM John: This sounds like the typical debate format so far - question to Huck.
Will: Huckabee's trying to reconcile his statements about an "arrogant" bush with the Bush doctine
7:13 PM Huckabee: I'm not Bush-bashing, I'm Rumsfeld-bashing
John: This first question was set up with a long intro, looking at how Bush promised a humble foreign policy as a candidate in 2000 and then after 9/11 took a very different course.
And a quote from Huck calling US foregin policy arrogant.
7:14 PM Will : Now the question is to Rudy

John: Fred T chides Huckabee lightly for seeming to say that "we were arrogant because that we didn't go in with enough troops."
7:15 PM Interesting to see Huck taking hits on foreign policy out of the gate, since that is clearly his most glaring poliy weakness
7:16 PM Will: and ABC caught a nice smirk from McCain. Huckabee seems to be cozying up to John's foreign policy, which I'm sure McCain will mention
John: This is teed up well for Rudy, who talks about supporting Bush's basic decision to go on offense against terrorists and segues into expanding the military. This is close to the heart of his candidacy.
7:17 PM McCain is the first one to say "I'm the only one..."
Will: McCain is echoing the idea that Bush got his foreign policy right in the big ideas, if not in the details/execution
John: here it's "... to disagree at the time [with Rumsfeld]."
7:18 PM Will: aaaaand then there's Paul
7:19 PM "This is the first time that we as a nation accept the policy that we start the wars."
John: Ron Paul hops in the way-back machine to reclaim the mantle of the humble foreign policy, drawing a contrast with Clinton's interventionism... Equating Bush to Clinton, a low blow in the eyes of the GOP base.

7:20 PM Romney jumps in to try to score some points beating up on Ron Paul here...
Will : and makes the first Pakistan reference of the night, saying that extremists want to bring down all moderate nations
7:21 PM John: Romney goes easy on Paul and moves on to his own thoughts, and discusses appealing to moderate Muslims, a "second phase" in the fight against terror.
7:22 PM Fred Thompson is now flexing, talking about his experience on the intelligence committee and the history of the preemption doctrine. The man suddenly looks wise and competent like he does in the movies. Hmmm...
Will : Thompson is arguing that preemption is the logical replacement of mutually assured destruction
7:23 PM John: Now Rudy is going to pick a fight with Ron Paul.
7:24 PM Will: Rudy: "Our foreign policy is irrelevant, totally irrelevant" in the issue of Islamic extremism
John: He talks about the fundamental values differences, i.e. rights of women, etc.
Ron Paul comes back with "Imagine the Chinese came here and tried to make us live like them..."
7:25 PM Will : wow. the entire field just turned on Ron Paul.
John: Romney takes a shot at Ron Paul now too.

7:26 PM John: You've been invited to this chat room!
7:27 PM Glynnis: Romney did his homework, dammit!
Will: Romney and Huckabee are bickering back and forth over Mike's foreign affairs article
7:28 PM John: Huckabee was looking very defensive there about something. And now he's sniping at Mitt.
Glynnis: ouch! "which one" says Huckabee?
7:29 PM Will: and Huckabee's trying to show he knows his facts, referencing not just Sayyid Qutb, but the year of his death (which, I'm pretty sure, is wholly irrelevant to the discussion)
Glynnis: Rachel and I are liveblogging from the press room (where we only just got a signal) and there was a big "ooh" when Huckabee said "which one."
John: Cute quip, but not necessarily effective on Huck's part. Romney winces and stands up for himself well here.
7:30 PM Will: Romney wins out over Huckabee here, though I think McCain wins for trying to mediate

John: Charlie calls time, and now it is back to the Ron vs. Rudy show.
Glynnis: Giuliani just referred to New York as "my city."
7:31 PM Will: okay new question. Its last press conference
John: Ron Paul is speaking truth to power as usual, if we respect Muslims and Arabs, "Why do we support their dictators?"
Will: The new question comes from Bush (at his last press conference): What are the principles you will stand on?
Rachel has joined
7:33 PM Glynnis: John McCain is wearing a VERY blue tie.
Rachel: Can somneone sent me the transcript from the beginning????
John: Charlie asks a bland question about principles, and McCain goes through a boilerplate-sounding response before retelling the fable of his prescient support for the surge.
7:35 PM McCain look pretty good here. There was a clip of him in the intro piece walking onto the stage at one of his recent rallies where he looked OLD. Seriously doddering. That could be a serious obstacle for him.

Glynnis: Especially if he's up against Obama.
John: Romney is smiling just a little bit less tonight, which is very good for him. He often smiles excessively as if he is trying to keep everyone happy. Here he is still smiling a little, but not always, and overall he looks more serious, more determined.
7:38 PM Glynnis: Gibson is now calling all the candidates out on their history of changing and/or moderating their views.
He looks like he's about to ground them.
John: Right down the line, nicely done Charlie.
Glynnis: Giuliani has mentioned Regan four or five times in the last five minutes. Perhaps his new 9/11?
7:39 PM John: Rudy answers a different question, talking about how you can't accomplish everything you set out to, as opposed to changing what you're out to do
Huck is reciting the Declaration of Independence, why?
He has a lovely voice, but still.
Will: technically he's paraphrasing
Glynnis: And now Huckabee is calmly running through the rationale of the Declaration.
7:40 PM Will: because he quoted with all the lines flipped around
7:41 PM Glynnis: He's very good at using the bible and the constitution persuasively instead of angrily. Velvet glove vs sledge hammer.

7:42 PM John: Fred Thompson is once more working this avuncular sage angle, now with a little constitutional history and folk wisdom about not spending money you don't have.
Will: There is a longstanding complaint that libertarians are frenetic, unable to stop listing the shortcomings of the recent United States. Paul has avoided that problem throughout his campaign, but he's been doing a bit of it tonight.
7:45 PM John: A nice set piece now from ABC explaining why the GOP approach pushing individual health insurance policies instead of group policies is dumb.
Glynnis: Observation from Sven: "Sitting in mccain's head office. Everone is watching debate here. Mood is jubilant for mccain; everyone is booing and laughing at the answers given by romney, esp on question of principles. People are supportive of huckabee."
7:46 PM John: Hey you Canadians, Rudy wants to know if the democrats reform health care where you will go to get your health care?
7:47 PM Our Canadians are dumbstruck, apparently.
Glynnis: Where will Canadians go? Just confused. I go to the upper west side.
7:48 PM Will: I thought Canadians couldn't get sick
John: McCain seems to think Canada is in Europe. Hm.
Glynnis: It's too cold to get sick.
7:49 PM Honestly, the Canadian heath care system is not something to emulate, unless you need emergency care for you child.
Will: Once again, Romney is showing off his knowledge of policy
John: Wow, Mitt Romney just explained what he did in Massachusetts with health care and why it worked.
7:50 PM He seems proud of it now. He just didn't mention its resemblance to democratic proposals.
Uh-oh, Ron Paul is off on monetary policy again, buying from Chinese, printing money...
7:51 PM Will: and backing it with something. Did we almost get a gold standard reference?
John: so close!
7:52 PM Will: I've never been so mad at Fred Thompson cutting someone off with his folksy charm
7:55 PM John: Interesting dynamic here between Fred and Mitt - Mitt admitted "I like mandates" and Fred started ribbing him for it. As when Huck tried that, Mitt gave him a look, patient but not particularly amused, like "Are you seriously that juvenile?" and then explained his policy
7:57 PM Huckabee is now doing his New Agey health care system versus disease care system riff. The idea seems to be if we only spent tons of money on preventative care, no one would get sick and we wouldn't have such huge health care costs. Excuse me, disease care costs.
Glynnis: Charlie Gibson, is very calmly not letting anyone get away with anything. Maybe it's the glasses, but it's clear that Gibson has no interest in being a star of any sort here.
7:58 PM Rachel has joined
John: Charlie's glasses are perched most precariously on the tip of his nose, it's true.

8:01 PM Will: Romey and McCain are fighting over pharmaceutical companies. McCain says they are the bad guys, and Romney comes to their defense.
John: Wow, here's a quotable exchange... Romney: Don't turn the pharmaceutical companies into the big bad guy. McCain: Well they are. Romney: No, they're not, they're trying to [cure diseases], and doing the work of the free market...
8:02 PM Will: Quick thought over the commercial break. The format of this debate really allows interaction between the candidate, and Gibson has done a good of keeping the discussion grounded in policy (as well as keeping the candidates beholden to their previous statements).
John: Debate points aside, Romney is looking much more competent and strong for having dropped the pasted-on smile.
8:03 PM It's an interesting balancing act -- sometimes it's in the weeds with the policy detail, but Gibson is doing generally well keeping things relevant and interesting.
8:04 PM Will: In my view, the format really helps Romney, as well as McCain to an extent.
but we've got another 45 minutes to change that
8:05 PM John: There's a great ad during the GOP presidential debate: 1-800-Joe-4-OIL, where Joe Kennedy teams up with Hugo Chavez's own Citgo to offer assistance with home heating oil costs for the American poor.
8:06 PM We're back on, and back to a more standard Q&A format.
8:09 PM Romney says letting them all stay is "a form of amnesty," and is "not appropriate."
8:10 PM Glynnis: never mind - back!

John: This Scott Spradling dude, a local NH reporter, is going after them on this.
Glynnis: This is the one subject Giuliani sounds reasonable on. It really is NOT possible to deport 12 million people.
8:11 PM Will: Rudy is saying you can't just throw out 12 million people. Which I recall him saying in New York, but a few months ago he was suggesting the opposite. So at least he's flipping back to the sane position.
John: Giuliani takes a middle ground - we cannot physically evict all 12 million illegal immigrants here now, but we should focus on the ones who commit crimes and who will not come forward to get themselves in the system.

5 minutes

8:16 PM Will: Ouch. Romney says he was misquoted by the AP. Mccain: When you flip what you choose on positions from time to time you will get misquoted. Romney: Is there a way to have this about issues and not about personal attacks? I hope so.
8:18 PM Glynnis: Back - the signal keeps dropping.
John: Fred's turn now, and he is very relaxed and sagely. If we enforced the borders, and had an employment verification system, and stopped doing sanctuary cities as Rudy did, we would have attrition and we would be okay.
8:22 PM Huckabee's turn. He used to offer scholarships to children of people here illegally, then somehow got endorsed by the Minutemen. Now he is saying we should send everyone home to get in the back of the line - actually they should go of their own accord. And we can do this because we built the Empire State Building in 14 months. Got that?
Will: The next great American monument: a border fence
8:23 PM John: Ron Paul is more concerned about the threat of a national ID card than any of the issues caused by of illegal immigration.
8:24 PM Will: Romney reassures the audience that all candidates are in favor of legal immigration. Just so we're all clear on that.
Glynnis: Romney doesn't want to scare the tourists and millionaires away. "We are in favor of legal immigration."
Will: New question: Why should America vote for you, rather than Barack Obama? First up is Romney.
John: Wild!
8:25 PM Glynnis: And Hillary is out!
Wow - not that long ago her name was the MOST mentioned in any debate.
Will: Romney: I'm the candidate of change.
8:26 PM Actually, he is using the Hillary argument, claiming his experience is necessary to bring change. (They differ on policy suggestions, but I think we all knew that.)
8:27 PM John: And the best Romney can do is that Obama wants the government to take over health care and Mitt Romney embodies change better than Obama. Wow. In reality, Obama's plan is not so crazy different from Romney's Massachusetts plan, if anything Romney's mandate is left of Obama's plan... and I defy you to stand the two of them next to each other and conclude Romney stands for change.
Glynnis: McCain to Romney: We disagree on issues but you are the candidate of change! SNAP
8:28 PM Will: If Romney's smile could kill...
John: But then McCain laughs at his own joke awkwardly, while Romney once again looks with patient pity at the mediocre attempt at humor.
Glynnis: It's interesting to watch Romney try and jump on Obama's coat-tails.
8:29 PM Rachel says: Mitt doesn't know how to through a punch.
Will: Wow. Are we looking at the Obama/Romney ticket?
John: he is doing alright at taking them though.
8:30 PM Romney looks stronger tonight than he has in a long time, not since his best of the interminable debates last summer.
8:31 PM Huckabee praises Obama for being likable and exciting and transcending partisanship. That wouldn't be a little self-serving, would it?
8:32 PM Ron Paul mispronounces Obama's name... do we have to drink something now?
8:34 PM Will: Now we're talking about the rise of oil costs. Don't you have to admit to the American people that gas prices are going to continue to rise?
John: Admit? These guys?
Will: Somebody is blaming inflation and the money markets. Two guesses who.
8:35 PM John: Ron Paul will only admit that high gas prices are caused by inflationary monetary policy.
8:36 PM McCain mentioned "the issue of greenhouse gas emissions... I believe we are going to damage the planet beyond repair unless we address that issue"! It's the new GOP.
8:37 PM Glynnis: Just as a side note: The signal here in the PRESS room is not proving to be reliable...causing rows of journalists to check and re-check their connection and computers.
And turn bewilderingly to one another to make sure it's not just them.

8:38 PM Will: Good life lesson: Live blogging sometimes works better when you're not actually live.
John: Glynn, while we have you, I am not digging Fred's tie tonight. Your thoughts?
8:39 PM Glynnis: Ha - his head is so big I haven't really noticed!
8:40 PM John: Rudy is looking alright tonight. He is energetic-strong, but not calmly self-assured-strong.
8:41 PM Will: Huckabee says we are paying both sides of the War on Terror, because oil prices are financing terrorists. A Huckabee administration is going to have some interesting chats with Saudi Arabia, I'm sure.
Glynnis: Rachel thinks Mitt is coming across as really weak: "If he can't stand up to this bunch of clowns how is he going to stand up to demagoguean world leaders?"
8:42 PM Charlie Gibson is having a Kumbaya moment...can't we just all get along?
John: A few times tonight, Huckabee has looked cross, even hurt, when others have criticized him (i.e. Fred T.). Not his best moments. Romney, by contrast, looked strong but still polite, not bad.
8:43 PM Will: I liked Romney. He was heavy on policy, and he took some personal jabs without trying to fire back. Thompson did decently as well, though probably because my expectations were so low.
Glynnis: Ahh - the Hillary/Giuliani meet and greet was about as frosty as the state of NH.
8:44 PM Will: Timeout: did McCain just wink at Hillary? I'm feeling very grade school about this big group moment.
8:45 PM John: That was a great moment, kudos to Charlie for that. They all behaved very well. (But then I didn't see any wink.)
8:47 PM Will: Alright. So much for the Republicans. I'm interested to see if any of the Democrats reference anything from Round 1.
8:50 PM Glynnis: I will say, Huckabee is maintaining his convincing tone. I'm not sure it will hold up under close inspection, but it worked well tonight.
8:51 PM I think it's also apparent that John McCain really has come back. And isn't afraid of a fight. BUT I think if Obama is the nominee, he is in trouble, as his age is really going to be a problem.
8:53 PM John: Unless he is facing McCain, in which case Obama's youth might even be a plus.
8:54 PM McCain did alright tonight, certainly much better than he had been doing last fall, when he often looked very tired if not utterly defeated.
Glynnis: That's what I meant - sorry should have been more clear. If Obama is the nominee than McCain's age will be a problem for him.

John: He is back in fighting form, quipping and being his old lively self.
Ah, gotcha.
It's a good point.
8:55 PM Will: I was surprised how Rudy and Mitt defended their previous jobs in Democratic havens. Before they've been apologetic, but here they were both pretty defiant.
8:56 PM Particularly Romney on healthcare and Rudy on immigration.
John: True, and it worked better for them, at least rhetorically.
8:57 PM Huckabee did not do as masterfully as he has in recent debates where he was able to slip into sermonizing. He did not hurt himself, but neither did he make it obvious that Iowans made the right choice.
8:59 PM Romney was stronger than he has been lately, without seeming unfriendly. He does not seem commanding and self-assured (= Presidential), but it was an improvement.

Break! Okay, before we go any further, apologies from Rachel and Glynnis, who are beset with connection problems in the giant pressroom. Apparently those without fancy Sprint cards that connect to the internet via cellphone signals are, too put it bluntly, screwed. Oh, how we (well, I, who was particularly afflicted) wanted to comment on the proceedings — Huckabee's savvy Mitt zinger, Giuliani's irrelevance, Mitt Romney's total inability to throw a clean punch — this guy clearly does not know how to fight. Attack ads and snipey carping only gets you so far; throwing a clean punch is a necessary skill for scrum like this, and one that Romney desperately needed tonight. Huckabee, meanwhile, goes from strength to strength. And Ron Paul won the "who performed the best?" poll on Facebook by a mile. Shocker!

All right, the kumbaya moment that everyone's been waiting for: Two teams crossing the floor, handshakes all around. This is actually...a great moment. My God, seeing these candidates face-to-face. A ripple went through the crowd when Hillary and Giuliani came face to face — even across a giant gym with terrible sound, you could feel the awkwardness. It seemed like every Dem candidate warmed up when they got to McCain; seeing Huckabee and Obama face to face was interesting; and seeing Richardson on the stage was the first reminder that he would be involved tonight, too. More than ever, it seems ridiculous that Biden dropped out. New Hampshire is a state that seems made for him, the flinty blunt, down-to-earth candidate — and while Richardson doubled his Iowa take, it was only because he got 2%. At any rate, the stage is set, and here's Diane Sawyer to give poor Charlie Gibson's voice a break. Gibson did and does well here, and seems just the same as he does on the news, comfortable and familiar with a touch of folksiness. He seems unconcerned with gravitas.Which is working here. Okay, that's it for me. Onward!

John: Okay, Democrats' turn. First question is nuclear terrorism. All the dems have studied this issue well, it is a favorite of democratic policy wonks.
9:09 PM Obama starts out with a calm but strong response on this. Note for what it is worth that his jacket is sagging away from his neck, though, leaving the impression he is wearing his dad's clothes and undermining the impression of gravitas his answer projects.
Will : Edwards is calling for a long-term initiative to get rid of nuclear weapons worldwide.
John: Edwards generally has had trouble projecting strength on national security issues, but his answer here is clear: if we know where Osama is, he would go and get him, period. The getting rid of all nuclear weapons position is also clear, but sounds stereotypically dovish and retrograde
Richardson makes it three sentences into his answer before saying "Here's what I would do..." If you've watched him at all before, that gets tired. He is on his game here though. He projects experience on these issues because he really does have experience on these issues.
Will: He apparently knows the ins and outs of the Pakistani constitution, referencing the capacity for a technocratic government to temporarily replace Musharraf.
9:13 PM John: Hillary is wearing a kelly green top, in a clear tribute to recently retired candidate Senator Dodd.

Will : Clinton is up. She says we should be careful acting on intelligence, because it is not always as effective as we think. Her example? Bill's targeted strikes aimed at Osama bin Laden. But she's certainly not going to agree with Obama when they spent so long fighting over this last time.
John: It occurs to me that only people who have watched very many debates will understand that is a reference to Dodd's habit of wearing bright green ties. My apologies.
Will : Hillary clears up that these election are for prime minister, not president.
9:16 PM (these elections being the elections in Pakistan)
John: Hillary gives a very calm, self-assured, but very wonkish and sleep-inducing answer. At least until the final line, where she shrugs and says the problem here is Bush has "walked away" from this issue.
9:18 PM Richardson tries a rhetorical flourish to bring home the importance of this. Obama does a little better by bringing this back to Iraq, and that the mistake of the Bush doctrine was not going after those who attacked us, but going after those who didn't.
9:19 PM Will : Kind of an oddly phrased question: On the day after a nuclear bomb goes off in America, what would you wish we would have done?
Am I getting that right?
John: Charlie cites Graham Allison's estimate that there is a greater than 50% chance that an American city will be attacked in the next 10 years.
I think so. Edwards says job #1 is to find the bad guys and strike back. Paging Jack Bauer...
9:21 PM He does make a nice point here though, that an American President's job in the wake of an attack is in part to keep people calm, not to ratchet up the tension is what would already be a crazy situation. Not a brilliant point, but a worthy one.
Will : Obama wants to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a long-term solution.

9:22 PM John: Obama and Hillary get back to the actual question, what they would have wished they had done. Obama cites rebuilding the frayed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Hillary cites all the work left undone on homeland security (ports, etc.)
9:24 PM Will : She also says there should be no safe haven for terrorists, be it an official state sponsor or someone who is turning a blind eye.
9:25 PM Richardson is really focusing on global problems that should be addressed with "transnational cooperation." He starts to hint against the state-oriented frame that Hillary mentioned, but he kind of runs out of time.
9:26 PM me : Now Charlie is baiting Hillary to reiterate and explain her criticisms of Obama
9:27 PM Will: What questions are unanswered about Senator Obama?
John: specifically, not knowing exactly what he stands for. beats me.
9:28 PM Okay, now we're talking... Hillary describes Obama as having taken several different positions on health care.
Although, hasn't Hillary famously moved away from her original failed health care plan? Just saying.
9:29 PM Will: Obama fires right back, saying he would design a different system from scratch than the plan he would advocate in the current situation.
John: Obama has a very elegant response: if he could start from scratch, he would prefer single-payer, but given the employer-based norm, he prefers another way.
9:31 PM Will : And he accuses Hillary of skirting issues herself, with his example being social security reform. Somewhere, Paul Krugman's head exploded.
John: His jacket still looks noticeably too big, though. I only bring this up again because this one visual cue detracts significantly from the substantial gravitas he is otherwise projecting.

Will : I do agree
9:33 PM Hillary doesn't take the bait, and she returns to the idea that Obama is changing his positions. But to do so, she's forced to point to very specific examples. It makes her sound nit-picky, which tends to undermine her rhetoric.
It's a fair question to raise, it is just a difficult one to do in this format.
9:34 PM Edwards is in the discussion, and he's talking about change.
9:35 PM He's jumping to Obama's side, saying that anytime change seems possible, the status quo seeks to quash it.
John: Edwards is asserting that he and Obama are "powerful agents for change" and that's why they finished 1-2 in Iowa. Ahem.

Will : I could be wrong, but something makes me think that when he says staus quo, he might mean Hillary.
John: And Hillary is pissed, to put it delicately.
9:36 PM She looks patently angry here, and she is well within her rights to be, but it does not cast her in a flattering light at all.
Will: Richardson: I've been in hostage negotiations that are a lot more civil than this.
Big laugh from the audience
John: Big, appreciative laugh for breaking that tension.
9:38 PM Interesting re-branding from Richardson: What is wrong with having experience? "Is experience sort of.. a leper..?" Ha.
Will: He's back to listing his record, but he's doing a better job than last debates, where he reads his resume like a grocery list. He's doing a good job of making his past work sound relevant, for once.
9:39 PM me : Yes, here the weight of the laundry list is evidence of his experience, which he has set up as a strong theme.
Will: Laundry list! That's the phrase I was looking for. (Who says grocery list?)
John: Edwards is now talking about fighting for the future of the middle class, the main line from a very successful commercial he has been running. Charlie calls him on that gently.

Hm. But who makes a list of their laundry? Weird.
9:41 PM Oooh, go Charlie: the surge has worked. What say you who opposed it?
This is a tough question. Not one without a good answer, but a tough and important question.
9:42 PM Will : Are any of you ready to say the surge has worked? Clinton up first, and her "willful suspension of disbelief" statement is at question.
John: First to Hillary, and she is on top of it: We have the greatest military in the world, and they have redued violence, but the Iraqi government has not been willing to do the political work that the surge was designed to allow for.
Will: Clinton: The surge was about political reconciliation, of which there is none. So, no, the surge has not worked. Good for her
9:44 PM John: Both Clinton and Richardson are talking about the 23 Americans killed in December. Richardson now does another laundry list, of all the measures of political progress that show no progress at all.
9:45 PM Will : Yeah, and it is a pretty disturbing laundry list.
John: Charlie comes back with some emotion, saying that the Iraqi Parliament meets AND an oil law "is under consideration."
9:47 PM Will: Obama reminds everyone that he opposed the war from the start. And he says the bar for success is so low that the surge working means we are back to 2005 levels of violence. He also points out that the parliament has been "considering" an oil law for years. Charlie quips that legislators are slow moving before moving on to Edwards.

9:49 PM John: As an aside, this is a real issue: people who have watched Iraq closely report a real new sense of hope, even if the objective evidence is still spotty. But many of them seem to have lost track of the costs, both sunk and ongoing, that America is paying. Ultimately, those must be weighed against each other to make a decision about our involvement there. To dems, that calculus is clear, and there is nothing unreasonable about that conclusion.
9:50 PM Obama's line about the surge having brought us "full circle" is a nice way of putting the recent accomplishments of the surge in perspective.
Glynnis has joined
9:52 PM John: Richardson is talking passionately abut how we can't do any of the things we want to do -- just because of the financial toll -- until we get out of Iraq. A good moment for him.
Will: Richardson: "As a governor, I fly the flag at half mast for a death. I'm sick of doing that."
9:53 PM I felt the tug on that one.
9:55 PM John: Overall, Richardson is not doing too much better than he has in the past. But he is making his presence felt here. I wonder if he does not benefit from getting equal time and appealing to voters who have come to have misgivings about the top three. That would not make him our next President, but it might make him a factor, depending on whom he would draw support away from.
Glynnis has left
9:56 PM Will: Commercial break time. I agree that Richardson is sounding better than he has in a while, even if he's saying the same thing.
9:57 PM No one is really standing out yet, but only because I think they are all doing a pretty good job.
9:59 PM John: GREAT line from Hillary.
Will: First question back. Scott Spradling notes the Edwards/Obama double team from earlier, and then asks her about her likeability. Hillary responds: "Well, that hurts my feelings."
10:00 PM And Obama's follow-up, saying, "You're likable enough" wasn't nearly as charming.
John: She has a great smile here : "I don't think I'm THAT bad."
10:01 PM He had a tiny smile on his face, should have been bigger. They were almost cute together, but he didn't play along fully.
10:02 PM God bless him, Obama confesses to watching football during the Republican debate. Well done.

Will : Damn! Does that mean we could have done that?
10:03 PM John: Choosing football over politics is a very noteworthy move by a democrat. The stereotype is we are all policy wonks to the core.
Good question. (I did flip back and forth myself.)
10:05 PM Will: did the fix his coat?
nope. nevermind
10:06 PM Yeah, the collar of his coat sometimes sits flat against his shirt collar, and sometimes yawns away. It is noticeable how much better he comes across, with more gravity, when it sits right.
10:07 PM Will: Ouch. Scott goes right after Richardson's resume, questioning his efficacy as Energy Secretary.
John: Not a good face for Richardson there. The local reporter was asking Richardson about gas prices while he was Energy Secretary, and Richardson's face looked like he was looking at crime scene photos.
10:08 PM Maybe sucking a lemon.
Will: Richardson talks about an energy revolution. It should be noted that he mentions 50mpg fuel efficiency. In the first debate, Huckabee said he wanted to get up to 100. I know it is a difference between CAFE standards and R&D spending, but still.
10:09 PM John: Here is an interesting moment - Charlie comes back to his question about relative youth a detriment, and Richardson says flatly no, that JFK was 42 years old and was one of his heroes.
10:11 PM Will: Now the moderator asks for something Edwards did that was significant in the US Senate.
10:12 PM John : He has a good example here, telling the story of working on the patients' bill of rights.
He did stumble out of the gate, though, saying "I can tell you exactly... exactly one thing..." Hopefully he has a few more.
10:14 PM Will: Now that didn't pass while he was in the Senate, correct?
John: Good question.
Will: Or am I totally mistaken
John: Well here is Hillary with the answer!
10:15 PM Will : whoa. she's like Google
John: It made it through the Senate, but not the House, and Bush killed it.
And Obama's New Hampshire chairman is apparently a lobbyist for drug companies.
10:16 PM She is making a pretty good point here that the self-appointed reformers are not so much purer than her supposedly establishment machine. Nice job of taking back the conversation.
10:17 PM She is coming across as irritated - justly, but still not entirely pleasantly.
10:18 PM Everyone is shouting over each other. Charlie just asked if anything could ever change in Washington and all hell broke loose.
10:19 PM Hillary makes a very strong point here about the Clinton administration having changed Washington dramatically, not just but not least the deficits and restoring progressive taxation and a strong economy.
10:20 PM Edwards is now back on his bit about fighting hard instead of going to cocktail parties.

Will : And harking back to Teddy Roosevelt!
John: And now Obama is talking about Presidents inspiring the American people to do better.
10:21 PM Obama: words matter.
Will: He gives credit to Bill Clinton for the budget, but says he didn't build the coalition to get the other big issues done.
10:22 PM John: Richardson seems to dismiss the whole conversation as Washington bickering... but it turns out he is talking about the media and the Republicans.
Richardson makes a little joke about not involving TOO many Republicans in government.
10:23 PM He is showing a sense of humor here.
Maybe more important, the camera caught Hillary in a really great smile in response, which was good especially after her looking grumpy earlier.
10:24 PM Will : I'm truthfully not of a fan of these questions about how are we going to achieve change when they are built on this very general framework. Change in a particular issue is one thing, but these end being overly vague back and forths.
Like -- speak of the devil -- the issue of addressing climate change, which is our next question. Specifically, why is no one endorsing a carbon tax?
10:25 PM John: Yeah, it is just an excuse for each of them to go to their stump speech and reiterate their themes: fighting, inspiring, working, etc.
10:26 PM Alright, now we're finally wonking out. Cap and trade versus carbon tax versus...
10:27 PM They are good though. This is actually educational.

Will: Hillary shifts the debate to the general economy, saying energy policy can be used to jumpstart the economic scene generally.
10:28 PM Which, in many ways, is the effect of both energy policies being debated. But it is a good connection to point out.
10:29 PM Now we're switching to tax policy. What happens when you get rid of the tax cuts?
10:30 PM me : Interesting debate on taxes here. Hillary answers Charlie's question about letting tax cuts expire by making it clear who we are talking about - only $250,000 and above.
10:31 PM Will: Plus a retooling of AMT. Which needs to happen, but it strikes me that doing so is likely to exacerbate the change in tax revenue that we're dealing with.
John: Edwards is now talking about how many US veterans are homeless tonight - "sleeping under bridges." The man keeps it real.
10:32 PM Yes, I do not think the general electorate really gets the AMT issue just yet.
This is the a great forum to begin talking about it though.
Will: Totally.
John : A fable of Washington dysfunction.
10:34 PM Richardson mixes it up here, saying "Here's my response..." instead of "Here's what I would do..." Go Bill!
10:35 PM Last question: name one thing you've said in the debates you wish that you could take back. Ha! Yes, please remind us of your worst moment if you would...
Will : Hillary demurs, and goes after Republicans instead.
10:37 PM Man. Richardson's is just hillarious.
John: Ha! Richardson steps up and talks about how the guy he said was his fav Supreme Court justice turns out to have opposed civil rights and Roe versus Wade. Whoops!
10:38 PM Will : And John Edwards takes the opportunity for mentioning Hillary's outfit, and then says she looks lovely tonight.
John: Nicely delivered there.
Obama passes on the chance to crack a joke or otherwise humanize himself, and just seconds what Hillary said.

10:39 PM Final thoughts?
10:40 PM I didn't see anything that would substantially change prevailing perceptions of the top three candidates.
10:42 PM Will : I agree.
John: Far from being an annoying distraction from the more viable candidates, though, Richardson added some welcome levity and perspective.
Will: I felt tonight was in many ways a policy discussion.
10:44 PM Which means all punditry will focus on Edwards aligning himself with Obama, rather than Hillary.
10:46 PM John: Could be. It was transparent but not ineffective when Edwards talked about he and Obama being change agents and finishing first in Iowa. he would like to make it a two-person race, him versus Obama, and make his case on electability, making the Southern governor argument.
10:47 PM Will : Well, I at least feel refreshed by the debates tonight. Particularly with the conversation about Iraq policy.
10:50 PM John: It is good that there is policy being talked about, both because people could learn something, and because it shows off democrats' strength.
Will : Absolutely. Are we off for the night folks?
John: Indeed. I heard a rumor the Steelers are coming back in the fourth...