Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thoughts on the Des Moines Register Democratic Debate

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 403

The Des Moines Register debate among the Democratic candidates for president has just wrapped up. Here are some thoughts on each candidate, in alphabetical order.

Joe Biden - hampered by a cold, Biden nonetheless delivered a strong performance in this debate. All the candidates recognize the importance of Iowa in the 2008 campaign process, but more than any of the others, Joe Biden was able to speak to Iowan's specific issues and concerns directly and effectively, but without overt pandering. Two examples: speaking about the contrast between his first trip to Iowa in 1974 and the present, Biden observed that there is now "so much open land and so few farmers," due to the rise of agribusiness at the expense of family farms, and he gave a terrific response on alternative energy and biofuels, giving an answer that referred to both cellulosic and corn-based ethanol and the comparative long term potential of each that will have the other candidates scrambling back to their playbooks to emulate. Look for that to pay dividends for Biden in the final sprint to January 3rd. But undoubtedly the best moment of this debate for Joe Biden, or any of the other candidates, for that matter, was his statement on civil rights, which drew applause from not only the audience, but the other candidates on the stage. Biden carried the entire hall, and the debate with it, in that moment.

Hillary Clinton: In a debate focused on issues and substance, Hillary Clinton came in with a game plan focused on selling her personal qualities to voters, rather than her policies. She strove - visibly strove - to appear relaxed, unflappable, strong, and confident in her inevitable success in this campaign. I'm not so sure this was the best strategy for this particular debate. The idea that this race is for all practical purposes over a full 3 weeks before caucus night is beginning to ware on Iowans. Clinton may have done better to engage on issues, rather than portraying herself as the One to Beat.

Chris Dodd: Dodd is always at his best when talking about the rule of law and restoring the Constitution, and today was no exception. Dodd also scored well in a gutsy pitch for a corporate carbon tax instead of a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But there wasn't a home run for Chris Dodd today, and that is what he needs absolutely every single time he goes to bat between now and January 3rd. Even then, it may already be too late for Dodd to improve his chances at a respectable showing in the caucuses, and that would be a shame for a candidate who has run a solid, ideas-based campaign.

John Edwards: Today was a missed opportunity for John Edwards. Edwards had a chance to come in to this debate and remind Iowans why it was they catapulted him to national prominence with a second place finish here four years ago. Rather than do that, however, John Edwards treaded water with answers that did little more than rerun lines from his stump speeches. Edwards didn't gain any ground today, which, with the polls showing him in a no-margin-for error dead heat with Clinton and Obama, is as much as to say that he lost ground.

Barack Obama: Today was easily Barack Obama's best debate so far. At a pivotal moment in the campaign, his statement repeating his "fierce urgency of now" case for his candidacy and his description of his plans for his first year in office showed a combination of heart and head that put Barack Obama in his best light. The trick for Obama now is that he must clearly display this combination again and again between now and caucus night to pull supporters away from the other established front runners. Obama's off-the-cuff remark about looking forward to receiving Hillary Clinton's advice when he is president was also 100% pitch perfect. It's hard to imagine Barack Obama performing any better than he did at this debate.

Bill Richardson: Amiable, unpretentious in spite of his accomplishments, and likeable, Bill Richardson nonetheless came into this debate an undeniably deflated candidate. Once showing potential to actually crack into the polling territory inhabited by Clinton, Edwards and Obama, Richardson appears to have peaked in mid summer and has been steadily losing ground ever since. Lacking energy, let alone any memorable lines, and seemingly unable to close the sale with Iowa voters, Bill Richardson did nothing to halt his slide in today's debate. You can practically hear the air seeping out of his candidacy.


Tosco T. Tosco said...

I made the identical assessment of each candidates performance. But, it seems like we're the only 2 that saw it that way. Granted, Biden had a cold, but the viewers saw him coming in dead last... me dons't get it. Duz you?

Anonymous said...

Two focus groups (CNN and Fox) along with a lot of commentators thought Edwards won the debate.

You have seen his speeches before, so when he uses the same lines, you think it's a boring retread. But most people watching the debate have never heard him say those things before.

I think Edwards did a great job of answering questions with a view to the big picture--for instance, on the energy question, saying we need to understand clearly what interests are standing in the way of the change we need.

I think Biden did very well too.

I don't think anyone did badly or lost supporters, but I think both Biden and Edwards helped themselves more with undecided voters than the other candidates did.


ziemerc said...

This debate was flawed from the beginning by failing to invite and include 2 democratic candidates-- Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. These two actually have something different to say and offer a fresh perspective on the issues. Their candidacy should not be taken as a joke. The exclusion of Kucinich and Gravel from the Des Moines Register Democratic Debate is a travesty and an insult to Iowa voters' intelligence.

-SmartVoter said...

From what I saw, Obama and Edwards were strong, and Hillary did not perform nearly as well. And besides, she is running mainly on celebrity status anyway.

But don't be fooled by name recognition. All that glitters is not always gold. There are other candidates in this race who are more qualified, more experienced and definitely more sincere about serving the American people than Hillary.

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