Here is my candidate by candidate impressions from what I was able to see of last night's debate:
1. Mike Gravel- Where did they dig up this fossil? They could have had a "Participate in the Democratic Debate!" contest on Daily Kos and come up with something better from a random drawing. He was equal parts cranky, cantankerous, ignorant, and just downright scary. Best parts was when he called all of the top tier candidates "dangerous" to America (agree, but for different reasons) and when he proposed making it a felony for the President to act as Commander in Chief. Not a great student of the Constitution, that Mr. Gavel. The scariest part of it all is that there was probably a large percentage of Democrats that were thinking "Wow, this guy is right!"
2. Hillary Clinton- Thankfully she looks to have dropped her phony Southern accent for the time being. I suppose that will only be unveiled for small crowds. Honestly, however, I bought in a little more into her inevitability last night. Of all of the candidates, she seemed like more of a leader. Although she had her share of dodges, she answered most of the important questions in a straightforward manner with confidence. Her best moment of the night was when Edwards and Obama essentially refused to answer a "if we were attacked by al Qaeda, would it change our military stance?" than Hilary stepped forward with, "Having been a senator on 9/11, I understand the horror of that sort of attack. I think a president must move as swiftly as prudent to retaliate." In the process, she made her two chief rivals look like dithering equivicators. I'm still not a fan, but Edwards and Obama are starting to look a little more scary in comparison.
3. Bill Richardson- His answers were honest and down-to-Earth, if rambling and disjointed. He appeared to be suffering with indigestion the entire debate. Owned up to his strong NRA designation with pride. His best moment of the night was when he was explaining his late-to-the-party call for Alberto Gonzalez to resign. "I know the guy." he confided and wanted to give him a chance to explain his actions. This showed a human side that I didn't really see from the other candidates. All-in-all however, much of his effectiveness was limited by his poor polish on presentation. Richardson missed a big chance here, he may not get many more.
4. Christopher Dodd- I'm sorry, but I just cant get over the eyebrows. They are a deal breaker for me. Overall, however, not a bad performance. He seemed to have a handle on policy specifics, and didn't appear to dodge many questions. There wasn't one thing that really stood out, but he was relatively solid and didn't make any gaffes.
5. Dennis Kucinich- He lost the most in the debate. Not only are his positions wishful thinking and incoherent, but he has lost his status as the eccentric gadfly to fellow nutcase Gravel. There are so many things to mock about Kucinich from his belief that the "world community" is willing to step into our military roles as we run away, to his apparent belief that terrorists are imaginary. My favorite moment was when he began to realize that he was being upstaged by Gravel and tried to attack Obama to get attention. Obama was having a bad night, but easily had enough to dismiss Kucinich's ravings.
Fun fact- Kucinich is the only presidential candidate in either party that I have seen in person. It's a long story.
6. Joe Biden. If he had the ability to "revise and extend" his remarks in real life like he does in Congress, he might be a factor. At times eloquent, he just doesn't have enough substance to match his mouth. Currently I believe that more people are interested in watching him inevitably step in it than in actually listening to what he has to say. Best moment: Williams asks him: "Words have gotten you in trouble in the past, you are known as somewhat of a gaff machine. Can you reassure voters that you will have the discipline to control yourself on the world stage?"
Biden answers "Yes." then shuts his mouth for perhaps the first time ever.
7. Barak Obama- Did not live up to the hype, at least early on. Quite frankly, Obama seems to have gotten in his head somewhere that the questions asked of him are just optional guidelines and that he is not required to even acknowledge what was asked before launching into his prepared soundbites. His deliver at times is weak and underwhelming. He did talk in some depth about his Health Care Plan, which sounds a lot like RomneyCare, but all else was evasive and superficial.
Then he was attacked by the intellectual pygmy Kucinich who accused him of trying to start a war with Iran. At that point, just for a minute, we saw a little of what I guess makes people excited by him. He set Kucinich straight on the threat posed by Iran and was direct and unequivocal, something he had managed to otherwise avoid the entire debate. That moment saved this from being a disaster for Obama. As the crowd winnows, and Obama has to speak longer and deeper, he may be in for a spot of trouble.
8. John Edwards- On the other hand, this debate WAS a total disaster for Edwards unless you are a blind supporter. Just dump the old material, John. Anything that fell outside his "Two Americas" prepared speech went poorly for him. And debates really aren't a good time to use old spun anecdotes, especially when they are pointless and not related at all to the issue. Did you not see Gore circa 2000? Edwards has no command of facts at this point which is perhaps why he relies on anecdote. He needs to hire away the people who prepared Dodd.
Additionally, he appeared soulless, especially when asked "Who do you consider to be your moral leader?" He responded with a long pause. That was a softball John, not a time for speechlessness. Say "my father," at the worst, or "Martin Luther King," "Abraham Lincoln," or perhaps "Gandhi." Are there no moral people that you can think of? This could even be an appropriate time for one of your anecdotes. Just say something!
Edwards is supposed to dominate these things and he placed below Dodd. Not a good outing for him.
Overall- These people need to quit their carping and offer a positive vision of the future. They are not running against Bush or anyone tied to him, and they look like a bunch of sourpusses. Had Giulini or Romney been inserted into this debate, either would have cleaned the clocks of the entire field based on competency and outlook. Overall, however, I would declare Hillary the winner. Future engagements need to drop at least two candidates.