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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Surprises of the Democratic debate

If we accept that presidential debate is a question of image and not of policy, then last week's Democratic primary debate in South Carolina had a big winner. And it's not Obama.

Go to part 1 of the debate. Listen to the opening statements about the war from Hillary Clinton (3:44), Joe Biden (5:10) and Barack Obama (6:18) and tell me if Obama doesn't come across the weakest of the three.

If Biden's campaign doesn't have legs, it's too bad; he's charismatic as hell. He had the big one-liner of the debate, at 5:47 of part 3. If you watch that, keep watching; former senator Mike Gravel of Alaska rails against the willingness of the other candidates to go to war, and he becomes unhinged in the process. If you watch nothing else from the debates, watch his opening salvo at 2:49 of part 2.

Obama didn't do poorly, but he never shone. Edwards was as bad on TV as he always is, blinking a lot, missing opportunities, and generally showing the same flimsiness that let Dick Cheney walk all over him in the VP debate in 2004.

The surprise was Hillary. She was on the whole time, in control and loving it. Listen to her defend herself against Republican critics (8:18 in part 3); she's confident, warm, a little funny, even a little exciting, and she's poised the whole time.

Obama discusses abortion at 0:26 in part 4. It's about the best response he has all night, but he's still pausing on every other word and tensing his eyebrows like he's passing a kidney stone. Then Hillary shows the right way to handle a debate question at 6:57, addressing the Virginia Tech shootings with a pitch-perfect answer that she has ready the instant the question is asked.

In part 5, Edwards, Obama, and Clinton all discuss their health care plans starting at 0:31. Hillary wins. Her answer shows a sophistication and ability to connect to voters that Edwards and Obama can't match. It's the kind of answer that takes the steam out of critics and wins over voters who thought they didn't like her. She's ready for the Republicans. And I'm starting to think she can kick their asses.

At 7:00, Obama awkwardly stumbles through confederate flag territory. At 8:38, you get another response from the top three, this time on the worst mistake they've made. Again Hillary makes them look like amateurs.

I just finished Dreams From My Father, which, though not a great book, does demonstrate that Obama is a thoughtful and observant man, as well as one sensitive to how much great policy the Democrats have jettisoned in an effort to remain popular. I would be happy to see him win. But this debate makes me think that Hillary is the stronger candidate and the more potentially popular president.

I'm going over to Tradesports now to put my money where my mouth is. I bet she wins the whole thing, and on top of that, I bet she's reelected with a solid margin.

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Blogger Unknown on Fri May 11, 04:56:00 PM:
Ben's eyes were not decieving him and I'd bet that his bet proves to be a winning one.

The latest Newsweek poll shows HRC leads Obama 51-39 and Edwards 57-38 in head-to-head matchups.

And in the general, she leads Giuliani by 3 and McCain by 6.
Blogger Brette on Fri May 11, 05:02:00 PM:
And by decieving I mean deceiving.
Blogger Ben on Fri May 11, 05:52:00 PM:
But remember that polls at this stage in the past have been bad predictors. Remember that Dean had twice Kerry's numbers in New Hampshire polls at one time, and that about 6 months before the presidential elections of 1980, 1988 and 1992, there were big leads by Carter, Dukakis and Bush, respectively. Obama and Edwards are essentially tied with Hillary, as I see it; especially with California voting early, any of the three could have the lead on Feb 5 2008.