Rob Shewfelt and I have started an exchange on the debate in the comments to yesterday's electoral college post, and while I included some debate commentary there, the events of last night deserve their own post. The question of the day remains to what extent, if any, did the debate change things in the Democratic battle in Pennsylvania and/or the broader race for the nomination?
In a footnote to yesterday's post I wrote:
"Two things are certain to come up at some point in the ABC debate: Obama's comments and
the Clinton trust poll numbers (since they were from ABC News). I don't know that those two equate, but they will both have something negative to address during this evening's proceedings. Strategically, Obama, in Clinton-esque fashion, has attempted to turn a weakness into a strength by welcoming a debate with John McCain over who is most out of touch. He will more than likely continue with that line of argument tonight. Clinton, on the other hand, may not be able to make the same reversal. Is she on firm enough ground arguing that either Obama or McCain can be trusted less? We will have to wait until tonight to see."
After the debate Rob had this to say:
"She got the question you predicted (on trust) and one of the ones I mentioned (on guns), but she can't complain that he is being pampered by the media. It seems to me that Stephanopolous had a conflict of interest. For years we have heard about the revolving door between government (particularly civil servants) and industry leading to favorable treatment of big business. I think it is time to look at the revolving door between Congress and the Executive branch and network news. It is one thing to be a pundit on election night or a talk show, but it is entirely different being a questioner in a debate. I understand that the frontrunner gets more scrutiny than the runerup, but I think this was the most slanted questioning of a candidate in a debate I can recall.
"Clinton clearly won the debate. Obama looked bad. Clinton looked good when she answered the questions asked, but she may have overplayed her hand when she piled on after Obama stumbled. It will be interesting to see if the debate makes any difference in PA. The trend this year has been the person that gets beat up is the person who does best in the next primary. We'll know more next Wednesday morning."
One thing is for sure in both these comments: We're both taking a "wait and see approach" to this. And given the way this race has gone thus far that's pretty wise. If the 2000 general election hadn't proven most experts' predictions wrong, I'd dub this the "election in which predictions were made to be broken." Maybe I'll settle for the "primary season in which predictions were made to be broken". Nah, too long.
Anyway, here are my first reactions to Rob and the debate:
"I don't know, Rob. Yes, Clinton "won" the debate*, but Obama survived without digging a deeper hole for himself. He is in a position now with his argument of changing the "politics of distraction" that Clinton has been in playing the gender card and crying. He can't overuse it (whether he thinks its the right angle to take or not).
"And while Clinton won, she has to do more than that; she has to change the outlook of the race. And it remains to be seen whether she went beyond just winning last night. My take is that she didn't. Her solid performance was in the policy arena and voters expect her to be good there. Chris Cillizza over at The Fix brought this up in his post-debate reaction. He cites the LA Time/Bloomberg poll of PA, NC and IN voters who perceive Clinton to be the better candidate on policy, but opt for Obama anyway.
"*These proceedings are really wins for McCain. The more time the Democrats spend answering questions about guns, lapel pins and members of the Weather Underground, the more ammunition they willingly hand over to McCain and the "Republican attack machine". Both Obama and Clinton seem to be aware of this, but the fight continues."
Other thoughts? The comments section is open, so have at it FHQ readers and UGA Campaign Discussion Group regulars.