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July 23 Debate Roundup: And the Winner Is...

I'm going to stick with my initial gut reaction and declare Obama came out on top in last night's debate. Many pundits are choosing Clinton as the winner, and she won in the sense that as the front runner in the race she didn't do anything to harm her position, but Obama definitely scored some points, and I expect to see a bump in his polling numbers as a result. My last place honors go to BIll Richardson, who failed to meet my expectations.

Here's a roundup from around the web, courtesy of US News and World Reports:

The one theme that emerged in the coverage of the substance of last night's CNN/YouTube Democratic debate was attempts by other candidates, particularly Sen. Barack Obama, to directly challenge Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has held double-digit leads in most recent national polls. Obama was generally seen as getting a good shot in at Clinton when he criticized those that voted to authorize the Iraq war, but Clinton was seen as scoring points over Obama by taking him to task for saying he would meet with leaders of countries such as Syria and Iran. Most media reported on the exchange (along with a number of others, such as John Edwards' explanation of his position on gay marriage).

The Washington Post leads its front-page coverage of the event with that topic, reporting Obama "edged closer to directly criticizing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq during a Democratic debate on Monday night, one of several sharp moments between the presidential contenders over the war -- and how to end it. Mentioning Clinton by name, Obama praised the senator from New York for recently prodding the Pentagon for its plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. But, he continued, 'The time for us to ask how we're going to get out of Iraq was before we went in.' He added: 'That's something too many of us failed to do.'" The Post adds, "Halfway through the debate, the Clinton campaign seized on what it said was a 'video moment of the debate,' when she said she would not promise to meet with leaders of regimes such as North Korea, Iran and Syria without a game plan. Answering the question before Clinton, Obama had said he would meet with rogue leaders as part of his diplomatic approach." The New York Daily News adds that Clinton strategist Mark Penn "said Clinton's answer was a 'presidential moment' that would become obvious in the fallout from the showdown."

The New York Sun reports Obama "is escalating his criticism of Senator Clinton's record on the Iraq war, using a Democratic presidential debate last night to belittle her attempt to force the Pentagon to release plans for withdrawing American troops. ... Mr. Obama's unsolicited jab, perhaps his most direct of the campaign, signals a potential turning point in a race that has thus far seen the leading contenders reluctant to take on their opponents directly." Clinton "appeared to hit back" with her response to the question on meeting with foreign leaders.

Similarly, the Washington Times reports, "Mr. Obama took a rare harsh tone toward Mrs. Clinton to highlight that he opposed the war before being elected to the Senate and she voted for it."

USA Today reports that Obama and Edwards "targeted" Clinton. Obama "needled Clinton for boasting she had demanded the Pentagon devise a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, his most direct challenge to her on the issue," while Edwards "suggested that Clinton wasn't in a position to deliver on promises to change the country's course. 'Do you believe that compromise, triangulation, will bring about big change?' Edwards said, a reference to President Bill Clinton's strategy of 'triangulating' differences between Democrats and Republicans. 'I don't.'"

Clinton, Obama Seen As Winners

While few media outlets this morning are declaring an outright winner in the debate, the performances by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are generally receiving good reviews. The Washington Post reports, "Clinton, sounding as sharp as she has in any of the past four gatherings of the candidates, eagerly joined an exchange over immediately withdrawing troops from Iraq." Long Island Newsday reports, "The anything-goes format coincided with a more aggressive and sure-footed performance from Obama, accused of being flat and long-winded in previous debates. ... Obama, who is beating Clinton in fundraising but trailing by an average of 15 points in national polls, seemed much more at ease than in previous debates." Obama's staff "said he romped in focus groups of debate viewers. But Clinton's pollster Mark Penn said Obama's commitment to meeting hostile foreign leaders would haunt his campaign by pointing up his inexperience."

In an analysis on the website of CBS News, Vaughn Ververs writes, "Politically, there was little to change the underlying dynamics of the race. Clinton, as in previous debates, largely sailed through the event error-free and took advantage of the opportunities presented. ... Obama turned in a mostly steady performance but did appear to trip up at one point when asked about whether, as president, he would be willing to meet with the leaders of nations such as Iran, North Korea and Cuba." Ververs adds, "As has been the case in the candidate debates thus far, Edwards did not do much to break through the grip Obama and Clinton appear to have on the top spots in the campaign."

CNN posted a post-debate "scorecard," with analyst Bill Schneider, Bill Press, and GOP strategist Leslie Sanchez all declaring Clinton as the winner of the debate. Roger Simon writes in The Politico, "It was a very close competition and the best debate yet." He give first place to Edwards, saying, "John Edwards has found a theme: He is angry and he is on your side. He is bold and he will use his boldness for you."

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