Instant Analysis of the South Carolina Democratic Debate

    One debate hardly determines a party’s nominee. And it’s true, as we noted before tonight, that there is a way in which a mass debate diminishes all involved.
    If there is a criticism to be made of the whole field tonight, it is that they were, on the whole, too senatorial – which is no surprise given that most are serving, or have served, in that chamber. There wasn’t much passion (except for Mike Gravel, the Democrats’ Admiral Stockdale), and there seemed to be even less energy. Many, including Republicans, may be outraged about the direction of the country but there was no sense of that outrage on stage in South Carolina.
    None of the second-tier candidates did enough to move their candidacies ahead significantly – which is hardly surprising given that they had little time to speak. It’s the hunch here that Bill Richardson hurt himself; the questions put him on the defensive a lot and, as a friend who watched the debate with me put it, he appeared to have the personality of a guy you’d meet at a cookout, not in the Oval Office.
    Of the three front-runners, John Edwards appeared to do the best by a country mile. He appeared less canned than the others, more sincere, and more presidential. Alone among all the candidates, he actually answered the questions. Though the sound bite tape might well belong to Joe Biden -- with his one-word answer to whether he talked too much -- or even Mike Gravel, it was Edwards who gave the most memorable answer with his story of his father walking out of a restaurant with his family because he couldn’t afford the items on the menu.
    Hillary didn’t hurt herself but she still has the same problem: she doesn’t converse; she lectures. Barack Obama, at times, seemed like a young JFK but at other times, he seemed a tad insubstantial and thin – his stature a metaphor for his answers.
    These candidates have time to mature. But tonight, it was hard to imagine any of them sweeping into the presidency on a wave of passion, save Edwards.
    He benefited the most from this first encounter. Along, of course, with the man perhaps waiting in the wings -- Al Gore.

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