Post-Debate and so on...
What all the online and on TV pundits agree on: no major gaffes by either candidate, a tone of civility and even friendliness. Many agree that both candidates helped themselves. But as the hours went on, more were counting the points in favor of Obama. In terms of Conventional Wisdom, this is a big win for Obama, because CW said he didn't perform well in previous debates.
So this is the starting point. Of course, how the debate is ultimately viewed will probably depend on Tsunami Tuesday outcomes. Did Hillary stop the bleeding and look like a winner again? Did Obama seal the deal with voters who wanted to see substance as well as inspiration?
On substance, most rated the 20 minutes on health care a draw, and some gave Obama the decision on immigration, in the first half of the debate. But the possibly fatal moments for Hillary were in the second half, which a question on her Iraq war authorization votes forced her to once again describe how she was hoodwinked by the Bushites (which is the charitable interpretation: the less charitable is that her vote was a political calculation so she could run for President without being called an unpatriotic dirty commie rat.) Obama did more than remind everyone that he saw through it and that he was opposed from the start, but related that to the judgment needed in the White House. His line about not only being ready on Day One, but right on Day One, was often repeated in later analyses. So Obama scored big here. The only question is how important Iraq still is to primary voters.
Then Hillary had to defend Bill, and she didn't answer the question. So she lost that one without Obama needing to say a word. Put them together and you've got a clear Obama victory in the second half. (An example of this evaluation here.) Other examples are in this diary if you scroll down between the clearly partisan comments.
What's interesting to me is that several observers gave the first half to Obama on style points: he was clear, articulate, presidential. And throughout the debate he did even better than take it to Bush, he took it to McCain and Romney. On the day that it was revealed that Romney spent far more of his own money than he got in donations on his campaign, Obama commented that he hadn't gotten much of a return on his investment, so maybe he wasn't that good a businessman. That's the other thing people commented on--his humor. Presidential, likeable, capable (lots of policy wonk answers) and right.
What about your voting blocs? Al at the Field sez Did Clinton cut into any of Obama’s base votes tonight (young voters, African-Americans)? No.
Did Obama cut into any of Clinton’s base votes tonight (women, Latinos?). Yes.
Al also notes that on the most popular radio show with Latinos in southern California, Ted Kennedy made the point that “Only two senators marched for immigrant rights on May 1, 2006, one in Washington and the other in Chicago. I marched in Washington and Barack Obama marched in Chicago. He was not afraid to stand up when others wouldn’t.”)
Here's a style point: Obama waited for Hillary to sit down first and held her chair for her, and when they were done he got up first and pulled her chair out for her. So Obama clearly wins the grandmother vote. (I wish mine were alive to see this--I can hear her falling in love.)
Hillary seemed to talk alot, while Obama was more succinct and to the point. Do I have to say where I'm going with this?
Obama started off the debate talking about John Edwards, and later said that he agreed with Bill Richardson on the issue of drivers licenses for undocumented. Now everybody is wondering whether Richardson will endorse him in New Mexico tomorrow, and whether Edwards or even Al Gore will endorse him before Tuesday--because it may be too late, one way or the other, to make an impact after that. But another high profile endorsement would go a long way to keeping the momentum going.
Obama got some very interesting endorsements Wednesday, and others may be in the works. He was endorsed by Elizabeth Moynihan, the widow of legendary New York Senator Pat Moynihan, who was also Hillary's Senate mentor. North Dakota has only three legislators in Washington, and now two of them endorse Obama. And I'll let the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire make this announcement:
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, the latest big name to endorse Sen. Barack Obama, could give the Illinois Democrat a boost by lending his gravitas in the financial world to a presidential candidate whose biggest hurdle is to convince voters he is experienced enough.
And From the Washington Post: Rep. John Larson today became the first senior member of the House Democratic leadership to endorse a presidential candidate, and his pick is Sen. Barack Obama. The Connecticut lawmaker, who serves as vice chairman of the House Democratic caucus, expects to campaign back home with Obama early next week, in advance of his state's Feb. 5 primary.
Also announcing for Obama this morning: Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a close friend of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Eshoo joins another Californian and Pelosi pal, Rep. George Miller, on the Obama bandwagon. Rep. Xavier Becerra, an up-and-coming lawmaker from Los Angeles, is yet another Pelosi ally supporting Obama."
But for all that, and for all the other speculation, there are two additional intriguing possibilities for Friday or Saturday. The head of the United Healthcare Workers has asked his union to shift their support from Edwards to Obama. If it happens, it adds the field operation of a union with 140,000 just in southern California. And the MoveOn.org membership has decided to endorse, and the voting is going on now.
More unions and MoveOn could add massively to field operations, already an Obama strong point. But what about those media buys in 22 states? The Obama campaign announced that it had raised $32 million in January, and signed up a quarter million new donors. The more than 1 million a day "is the largest haul ever by a presidential candidate during a competitive primary."
Finally for tonight, Obama picked up the endorsement of The Nation magazine, which said in part:
The question of who can best build popular support for a progressive governing agenda is related to, but distinct from, the question of electability. Given a certain ceiling on Clinton's appeal (due largely to years of unhinged attacks from the "vast right-wing conspiracy"), her campaign seems well prepared to run a 50 percent + 1 campaign, a rerun of 2004 but with a state or two switching columns: Florida, maybe, or Ohio. Obama is aiming for something bigger: a landmark sea-change election, with the kind of high favorability and approval ratings that can drive an agenda forward. Why should we think he can do it?
The short answer is that Obama is simply one of the most talented and appealing politicians in recent memory. Perhaps the most. Pollster.com shows a series of polls taken in the Democratic campaign. The graphs plotting national polling numbers as well as those in the first four states show a remarkably consistent pattern. Hillary Clinton starts out with either a modest or, more commonly, a massive lead, owing to her superior name recognition and the popularity of the Clinton brand. As the campaign goes forward Clinton's support either climbs slowly, plateaus or dips. But as the actual contest approaches, and voters start paying attention, Obama's support suddenly begins to grow exponentially.
In addition to persuading those who already vote, Obama has also delivered on one of the hoariest promises in politics: to bring in new voters (especially the young). It's a phenomenon that, if it were to continue with him as nominee, could completely alter the electoral math. Young people are by far the most progressive voters of any age cohort, and they overwhelmingly favor Barack Obama by stunning margins. Their enthusiasm has translated into massive increases in youth turnout in the early contests.
Finally, there's the question of coattails. In many senses there's less difference between the two presidential candidates than there is between a Senate with fifty-one Democrats and one with fifty-six. No Democratic presidential candidate is going to carry, say, Mississippi or Nebraska, but many Democrats in those states fear that the ingrained Clinton hatred would rally the GOP base and/or depress turnout, hurting down-ticket candidates. Over the past few weeks a series of prominent red-state Democrats, most notably Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, have endorsed Obama. When I asked a Democratic Congressional candidate in the Deep South who he preferred at the top of the ticket, he didn't hesitate: "Obama is absolutely the better candidate. Hillary brings a lot of sting; he takes some sting out of them."
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