ABC is live-blogging their debate here.
The Campaigns React: From Obama:
"Tonight we saw a real choice between the old politics of point-scoring and distraction and a politics that focuses on bringing us together to actually solve the challenges we talk about every single election. Continuing the theme of her campaign, Senator Clinton used every single opportunity she had to launch misleading attack after misleading attack against Barack Obama, which is why polls show that most Americans think she's running the most negative campaign and don't believe she's trustworthy. Barack Obama spoke about the issues that actually matter in people's lives, like how he plans to end the war in Iraq, cut middle-class taxes, help people stay in their homes, and provide a secure retirement for our seniors. That's why more Americans are putting their trust in Barack Obama to bring about the change we need in Washington," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
The Gotcha Debate: Sam Boyd at Tapped is angry about tonight's questions:
Seriously "does rev. wright love america as much as you?" Really? REALLY?!!!
Also, "what will you do when clips" of Wright "play over an over" on TV? [...]
A woman asks if Obama "believes in the American flag" because he doesn't wear a flag pin.
Charlie Gibson says that questions about the flag are "all over the internet" -- along with Pamela Anderson's sex tape, cats with bad grammar, and Rick Astley. Journalism at it's finest. [...]
And now, we're on to William Ayers. Gaaah. Obama says Ayer's is someone Obama knows... says he's also friendly with Tom Coburn who wants to give the death penalty to people who perform abortions. Attacks the whole idea of guilt by association, says "the American people are smarter than that." [...]
The debate is 46 minutes in, and nothing remotely meaningful has been discussed.
Here's the question on Bosnia:
And one on Wright:
Ben Smith notes it took 63 minutes to get to the first issue question, on the economy.
Marc Ambinder summarizes:
Obama is receiving unprecedented political and associational scrutiny here from ABC. Has he gotten a pass for the first 21 debates? Or is ABC going to precipitate a backlash? I'm getting lots of e-mail feedback from usually temperate Obama supporters, like: "This is the craziest thing i have ever seen. Did they take money from the Clinton campaign?" On the other hand, I can envision Clinton supporters saying to themselves, "Yeah, baby, now you know what it feels like."
Candidates Asked: Can Your Opponent Beat McCain? At tonight's debate in Philadelphia, Senators Clinton and Obama were asked whether or not they thought their opponent was capable of beating John McCain. Senator Clinton responded by saying, "I think we have to beat John McCain," which eventually prompted George Stephanopoulos to insist on a more direct answer, which she proferred, fairly offering, "Now, I think I can do a better job. I mean, obviously, that's why I'm here."
Obama, faced with the same question, answered directly, "Absolutely. and I've said so before," but then very sharply went on the attack about being labelled an elitist. It was the first significant escalation between the two candidates. Up until that point, Senator Clinton had pressed her case in very diplomatic and conciliatory tones. Obama seemed to have been prepped to expect more aggressive attacks from Clinton.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me pick up on that. When these comments from Senator Obama broke on Friday, Senator McCain's campaign said it would be a killer issue in November. Senator Clinton, when Bill Richardson called you, to say he was endorsing Barack Obama, you told him that Senator Obama can't win. I'm not going to ask you about that conversation. I know you don't want to talk about it. But a simple yes or no question. Do you think Senator Obama can beat John McCain or not?
CLINTON: I think we have to beat John McCain. And I have every reason do believe we're going to have a democratic president. And it's going to be either Barack or me. And we're going to make that happen. And what is important is that we understand exactly the challenges facing us in order to defeat Senator McCain. He will be a formidable candidate. There isn't any doubt about that. He has a great American story to tell. He is a man who has served our country with distinction over many years. But he has the wrong ideas about America. And those ideas will be tested in the caldron of this campaign. But I also know, having now gone through 16 years of being on the receiving end of what the Republican party dishes out, how important it is that we try to go after every, single vote, everywhere we possibly can to get to those electoral votes that we're going to need to have the next President elected.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the question is, do you think Senator Obama can do that? Can he win?
CLINTON: Yes, yes, yes. Now, I think I can do a better job. I mean, obviously, that's why I'm here. I think I am better able and better prepared, in large mess measure, because of what i've been through, and the work that i've done. And the results I've produced for people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama, do you think Senator Clinton can win?
OBAMA: Absolutely. and I've said so before. but I, too, think I'm the better candidate. And I don't think that surprises anybody. Let me pick up on a couple of things that Senator Clinton said, though. during the course of the last few days, you know, she's said I'm elitist, out of touch, condescending. Let me be absolutely clear. It would be pretty hard for me to be condescending to people of faith because I'm a person of faith. And have done more than most other campaigns in reaching out specifically to people of faith and have written about how democrats make an error when they don't show up and speak directly to people's faith because I think we can get those votes and I have in the past. The same is true with respect to gun owners. I have large numbers of sportsmen and gun owners in my home state. And they have supported me, precisely because I have listened to them. And I know them well. So, the problem that we have in our politics, which is fairly typical, is that you take one person's statement, if it's not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death. And that's what Senator Clinton's been doing over the last four days. And I understand that. That's politics. And I expect to have to go through this process. But I do think it's important to recognize that it's not helping that person who is sitting at the kitchen table, who is trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the end of the month. And Senator Clinton's right. She has gone through this. I recall when, back in 1992, when she made a statement about how -- what do you expect? Should I be at home baking cookies? And people attacked her for being elitist and this and that. And I remember watching that on tv and saying, well, that's not who she is. That's not what she believes. That's not what she meant. And I'm sure that's how she felt, as well. But the problem is that that's the kind of politics that we've been accustomed to. And I think Senator Clinton learned the wrong lesson from it because she's adopting the same tactics.
Obama Raises Clinton's 'Cookies' Remark: NYT's The Caucus notes:
Mr. Obama turns the tables on Mrs. Clinton, bringing up comments that she made, back in 1992, that seemed to be an insult to stay-at-home moms, "that I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas."
Mr. Obama said he was watching TV at the time, and when she was attacked as an elitist -- as she is attacking him now -- he thought, "that's not who she is." But, he says, "she learned the wrong lesson because she's adopting the same tactics."
Also, Obama falsely claimed that his campaign only addressed the Bosnia sniper issue because it was asked. Politico and the Clinton campaign find evidence to the contrary.
Hillary Clinton, The New Rudy Giuliani? Ben Smith: "A reader notes that Hillary has brought up 9/11, more or less unprompted, three times so far in the debate, a level not seen since Rudy Giuliani dropped out in January." More here.
Neither Candidate Will Commit To 'Dream Ticket': Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both declined Wednesday night to pledge a spot on their ticket this fall to the loser of their epic battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"I think very highly of Senator Clinton's record, but I think it is premature at this point to talk about who the vice presidential candidates will be because we're still trying to determine who the nominee will be," Obama said in the opening moments of a debate six days before the pivotal Pennsylvania primary.
"I'm going to do everything I possibly can to make sure that one of us takes the oath of office next January. I think that has to be the overriding goal," said Clinton.
HuffPost's Jason Linkins writes on the expectations setting for tonight's debate:
Campaign surrogates from both camps in the Democratic primary were out in force this morning, and the big takeaway is expectations management. A flurry of "bitter" controversy hasn't seemed to have impacted the polling in any significant way: Clinton still looks like a winner overall, and Obama's numbers continue to suggest that he's made up ground. With a potentially game-changing debate tonight, and a long string of primary results that have defied the pre-game polling, both sides are working in advance to set up the anticipated results in the most positive way possible.
The Clinton campaign have aggressively pressed their case this week, armed with a new stockpile of ammunition from Barack Obama's "bitter" comments. On today's Morning Joe, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson went on the offensive, accusing Obama of "playing the politics of division" with "rather insulting" remarks. He pressed the case well, without going overboard, by declining to agree with the notion that Obama was calling the people of "small-town America" bigots, and offering a dollop of diplomacy, saying: "I think Barack Obama is a good person...This is not about what's in Barack Obama's heart, it's about what he said."
While this was the bulk of the conversation, it's notable that this is not how Wolfson chose to lead off. He began his remarks with an eye on expectations:
SCARBOROUGH: Howard, how are things going in Pennsylvania? Any evidence that Pennsylvania voters have been repelled by Barack Obama statements that you all have termed "elitist"?
WOLFSON: Well, I think we will find out on Tuesday. Senator Obama is doing everything he can to aggressively compete and win in Pennsylvania. He is outspending us this week on television two-to-one. I think he is spending more money on TV this week than anyone in the history of Pennsylvania politics. He outspent us last week on TV two-to-one. He outspent us the week before that and overall about three-to-one. So he's doing everything he can to win.
Wolfson is smart to point out the degree to which Obama has invested money in Pennsylvania - the campaign has disputed some of the figures that have been floated, but his campaign's outlay can properly be termed historic, if not unprecedented.
Given a similar opportunity, Obama communications director Robert Gibbs cast their expectations for Pennsylvania as a certain second-place finish, emphasizing Clinton's considerable support from Pennsylvania's political establishment:
SCARBOROUGH: A couple quick predictions before we leave, how many percentage points are you going to beat Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania?
GIBBS: Look, we are the underdog in Pennsylvania. You have talked about it today and every day for a number of weeks - about the Ed Rendell machine in Pennsylvania. We are just hoping to do well here.
As always, nobody knows anything! But spinning a big win (or a manageable loss) is crucial when you consider how little could be at stake in Pennsylvania - at least in practical terms:
...a CQ Politics analysis of the political circumstances in Pennsylvania's congressional districts, detailed below, projects an edge to Clinton -- but by just 53 district-level delegates to 50 for Obama under the Democratic Party's proportional distribution rules.
These numbers suggest that Clinton, even with a victory in Pennsylvania, would make only a small incremental gain against Obama's overall lead in the delegate race.
Of the state's remaining 84 slots, only 55 pledged delegates will be distributed based on the statewide popular vote, with the state's remaining 29 seats going to unpledged "superdelegates."
Clinton's most sizable gains in the state may come from the coterie of superdelegates, but there's a good chance that when the dust settles the night of the primary, the gains made in the pledged delegate column will be minimal. Good thing we've spent seven weeks building up this primary to ridiculous proportions, right?
The Philadelphia Inquirer previews tonight's Democratic debate:
Looks like it's time to rumble, not ramble.
Tonight's Democratic presidential debate at the National Constitution Center comes at the most contentious point in the Pennsylvania primary campaign, with both candidates running TV ads attacking each other by name.
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is struggling to recapture momentum after his widely criticized remarks about "bitter" Pennsylvanians, and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton is seizing on the gaffe to make a decisive move before time runs out on her efforts to capture the nomination.
"After this past week, this debate is a much bigger deal," said veteran media consultant Neil Oxman. "Everybody knows this race was getting close, and something happened to change the dynamic. This is Obama's chance to set this aside and get back to his 'change' conversation, or not."
Clinton and Obama have appeared together more than 20 times, but tonight will be their first debate in front of a live, prime-time, major-network audience.
ABC News, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Constitution Center, will broadcast the 90-minute debate beginning at 8 p.m.
"It's been two months since they've debated and there's plenty to talk about," said ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who will co-host with ABC anchor Charles Gibson.