Las Vegas -- What to look and listen for in tonight's much-touted televised Democratic Presidential Debate?
Here's a handy Tip Sheet to help sort out what threatens to become a prolonged rhetorical jumble.
HIllary on the Offensive:
The best defense is a good offense. And since her "driver license doublespeak" stumble at the last debate in Pennsylvania two weeks ago, Clinton has been very much on the defensive. Until now, she's adopted an aloof, Rose Garden posture ot staying mostly above the fray and portraying herself as a victim of a Boy's Club pile-on. But tonight Hillary might be tempted to pre-empt any new Obama-Edwards attacks by simply attacking them first. Bolstered by a 30 point advantage here in statewide polls, she might decide to try to use tonight's debate to finish off her rivals.
Edwards Confronts Obama:
A poll-sagging John Edwards, increasingly with little to lose, has been sharply escalating his attacks on Hillary Clinton. He's taken extra efforts to position himself as a fiery reformer willing to take on a lobbyist-infested establishment presided over by Hillary. But Barack stands like a six-foot-plus firewall between Edwards and Clinton. Edwards has somehow got to get through Obama to really get to Hillary. Is tonight the night that he makes that move?
Obama Confronts Edwards:
In many states, especially early voting Iowa and New Hampshire, John Edwards' numbers are what make the difference between Obama and Hillary. If Obama could fold the anti-Hillary Edwards' voters into his own camp, he could be a front-runner. will Obama go after Edwards before Edwards goes after Obama?
Immigration Issue Explodes:
This issue could play out tonight like one more implosion of an aged Strip hotel. The illegal immigration issue has a totally different dynamic here in Nevada than in almost any other debate venue so far. A state blessed with sustained economic growth, there's a much broader consensus here that immigrants --legal or otherwise-- are one of the engines. Latinos make up 3% of the population but 25% of the greater Las Vegas area. So are the Dems gonna play to local, pro-reform sentiment? Or are they going to continue to play immigration dodge-ball, especially after this week's back down by New York Governor Spitzer on his plan to allow driver's licenses for the undocumented.
Slide To The Center:
A new CNN poll released just hours before the debate reveals Nevada as a possible Democratic swing state in next November's general election. After consistently going Red, the poll shows that Hillary Clinton would handily win the state if paired up against Mitt Romney (in spite of Nevada's large Mormon population). And Clinton shows up in a dead heat 46-47 in a virtual match-up with Rudy Giuliani. With an eye beyond the primary, the leading top tier candidates might tone down their verbiage tonight, aiming it more at the local Nevada swing constituencies rather than tossing out more red meat the to the national Democratic base.
The Biden-Richardson-Kucinich-Dodd Factor:
What factor? No dice. "Seven out" as they say.
None of the Above
Alas, that's the most likely of scenarios. See you at the debate.