By Joe Campbell
October 31st, 2007
Maybe Senator Obama had a bit more reason to be satisfied after last night’s debate than I thought. The focus of all the coverage I have seen has been on Clinton’s dissembling and the relentless attacks on her. As the Politico says: “When Hillary has a bad night, she has a really bad night.” Drudge is reporting that Hillary is blaming Tim Russert for being too tough on her:
CLINTON INNER-CIRCLE BLAME ‘UNFAIR’ MODERATOR TIM RUSSERT. ‘HE BORDERED ON THE UNPROFESSIONAL,’ TOP HILLARY ADVISER CHARGES. ‘HE BROKE DEBATE RULES AND WAS BELLIGERENT’…
Last night actually made me respect Russert all the more because he took no bullshit from Hillary. She kept trying to avoid answering his questions, keeping her position “fuzzy”, and he tried to get her to give a clear answer. He also seemed to have prepared statements Hillary had made refuting every point she was kind of making. With as long a career in the public eye as Hillary has had, I think she could have brushed off these challenges by taking a solid stand last night. Instead she made it worse, reminding us that her husband was the first president to question what the meaning of is is.
Clinton still has a formidable campaign, but I believe the weakness she demonstrated last night spells the beginning of the end. She’s not going to win the news cycle by blaming her lack of candor on Tim Russert. And she will not get sympathy for being attacked because she has cultivated a reputation for being ruthless in attacking her opponents. Most of all, with primary voters and caucus goers deciding which candidate is best suited to beat the Republican nominee come next November, this night will loom large. Given all her experience in the public eye, given her practical incumbency, one would expect her to be able to give the appearance of being straight-forward, of directly answering questions instead of getting annoyed when anyone points out she is merely mouthing platitudes.
Regarding my hand-picked candidate: Obama didn’t do enough. He did not make his case. I am not sure if this was intentional or not. Obviously Edwards came off very strong. He was aggressive and forceful. He demonstrated an instinct for zoning in on the kill. Here, his trial experience must have been very helpful.
But few people saw Edwards’s strong performance last night; and although the headlines and stories all mention Edwards’s good performance, they include it as a footnote to the main story: Hillary had a really bad night.
If Obama had performed at the top of his game, I am not sure it would have stood out amidst the carnage. Perhaps – and this is wishful thinking on my part – he did not want to be known for taking out Hillary. Rather, he wanted to make his case when he could be positive. The question everyone was asking before the latest national polls showing Hillary with a 20% lead was how Obama could get Edwards to do the dirty work of taking out Clinton for him. If that was the goal, Obama succeeded last night. Given Edwards’s lack of a national campaign structure and relative weakness in the money race, Obama still stands most to benefit from Clinton’s stumblings. What he needs to do now is to present a compelling positive vision of his view for America. Now.