10/31/2007 05:56 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reactions To The MSNBC Debate In Rural SC

The following piece was produced by the Huffington Post's OffTheBus.

Richardson tanked, Edwards spanked and Hillary was outflanked.

Bill Richardson lost any notion of support with his "Holier Than Thou" speech to others onstage about their piling on Hillary Clinton. After a minute or so of sermonizing, he was debate-watchers' toast. The consensus? "She says she's a big girl. She can take it. What's he running for, anyway? Veep in the new Clinton administration?"

So say a group of rural South Carolina women who watched -- and rated -- the performances of the candidates at the October 30th Democratic debate. There were seven of us; four African Americans, three Caucasians. We're longtime friends, all of us political activists. We range in age from 54 to 89. We're the women who volunteer, who phone-bank and get out the vote for every election. And we don't always agree on every issue, or on a candidate.

I have to be honest (that rule really does apply at Huffington Post) and tell you this is an Obama crowd. Four of the seven of us support his candidacy. The other three are undecided. Two of them have been leaning toward Hillary since late spring; the woman thing, the experience factor.

But Barack Obama did not win the night and Hillary Clinton was anything but "inevitable". In the post-debate straw poll among those of us who felt strongly enough about performances to vote, John Edwards was the clear winner with four first place and one second place votes. Obama took one first and two second place votes. Hillary's best showing was a single third place -- Joe Biden finished ahead of her. Edwards' tougher tone won the hearts of Southern ladies who are ready, as one of them put it, " stop all this monkeying around and tell it like it is!" Edwards got cheers three times, for three powerful statements, all of them directed at Hillary. In response to HRC's vote in favor of Kyl-Lieberman, Edwards turned his well-coifed head in Hillary's direction and said "...if Bush invades Iran six months from now...are we going to hear 'If only I knew then what I know now'?" Every woman in the room was on her feet then, steno pads waving like flags, feet stamping and hollering. No one, it seems, is happy with that second concession to the Dubya Doctrine.

The women were moved when Edwards, on the subject of Iraq, said "If you want combat troops over the long term and no timetable for withdrawal, then Hillary Clinton is your candidate" and again when he spoke of passing on all our problems to our children and grandchildren rather than dealing with the hard realities ourselves. We're all mothers, most of us have grandchildren. We worry about the world we're leaving them.

Electability is a concern among this group of women. We're tired of losing. Chris Dodd got points for laying on the table the "unfair Clinton baggage" the HRC campaign brings with it. It's a real problem, that visceral hatred, and we have to face it. Re-energizing the far-Right is a Halloween ghoul of the worst sort here in the South. "The best we can hope for," one of the women watchers lamented, "is that those folks keep fighting amongst themselves over Rudy and Romney and stay home on election day." As much as some of us like Hillary, we worry that her nomination will incite the Right and cost us the White House. "We just cannot afford to lose," another of the women interjected.

Obama, the group said after the debate, got off to a slow start but did well overall. What he didn't do was hit the high notes that Edwards did. They responded well to Obama when he spoke to the issues of honesty and transparency in government, taking Hillary to task over lobbyists, about not facilitating the National Archives' speedy release of Clinton White House documents so the public can see evidence of her eight years' experience in impacting public policy. They cheered when he, unlike HRC, said he would lift the salary caps impairing Social Security solvency. "I'd be happy to contribute more if I made that kind of money," one said. "We need to start taking care of one another."

These women are torn about Obama's going on the offensive. It makes for schizophrenic support. They want him to hit back. No. No, they don't. He's better than that...but maybe he really should...or not. They were happy Edwards did it for them.

It's worth mentioning that Joe Biden made everybody's top three. He was forceful, they pointed out, and showed the wisdom of longtime public service in a positive way

Dennis Kucinich did amazingly well with the group. They loved his single-payer, not-for-profit healthcare plan -- a fascinating development, since two of them are in the business of health and life insurance. We all loved Kucinich's repeatedly bringing up impeachment. Dubya is not popular here. None of us liked the tenor of Brian Williams' "Will you pledge..." question about Iran and nuclear capability. It sounded aggressive. When Kucinich scolded Williams and the MSM for their culpability in "ratcheting up the rhetoric for war" by framing questions in such volatile terms, he got applause. Pencils flew over paper as he spoke, checkmarks prominent next to his name. I thought he'd finish in the top three right up to the moment he said he'd seen a UFO. There was a collective groan. "No one's gonna take that man seriously now," someone muttered.

At the end of the night the only candidate to drop out of the top tier was Hillary. Edwards, whether or not he won their votes, had a few new fans. The Obama bunch said they'd still vote for him, but would like to see an Obama/Edwards ticket. Biden won both attention and respect. Dodd got a big nod for having the courage to tell us the 800 pound gorilla in the room is more than a specter of Halloween and that we'd darn sure better acknowledge it. Richardson became the non-candidate who panders for position with the frontrunner. Speaking of frontrunners, one of our group made two points: "It's sad," she said, "that more people probably watched the "Dancing with the Stars" results show than the...debate, but there might be a lesson [there]. The early frontrunner, the one almost everyone assumed would be in the finale, was booted from the show...who knows?"

And then there was Dennis Kucinich, who can win our hearts with lofty ideals only to shoot himself in the foot before our heads are ever engaged. It's important to note, however, that he is clearly the happiest candidate on any stage. We watched him and his gorgeous young wife in a lip-lock after the debate. It was worthy of any lusty Harlequin Romance book cover. If only Al and Tipper had looked so steamed-up in 2000...