The debate questions last night seemed to pit candidate against candidate more often than in the past. The questions were sometimes more provoking, attempting to draw out the differences through confrontation.
What I saw was not confrontation, but some deft examples at politicians diplomatically turning the question in their favor.
The project was an unconventional experiment that mostly delivered a conventional result. Take this question posed to high profile candidates Senator Barak Obama and former first lady Hillary Clinton:
"Whenever I read an editorial about one of you, the author never fails to mention the issue of race or gender, respectively," YouTube user Jordan Williams said.
"Either one is not authentically black enough or the other is not satisfactorily feminine. How will you address these critics and their charges if one or both of you should end up on the Democratic ticket in 08?"
Senator Obama drew laughter when he answered: "Well, when I'm catching a cab in Manhattan - in the past, I think I've given my credentials."
Senator Clinton's response prompted thunderous applause.
"I couldn't run as anything other than a woman," she said. "I am proud to be running as a woman and I'm excited that I may be able finally to break that hardest of all glass ceilings."
And even those not directly asked, like former senator John Edwards, muscled in to score some valuable points.
"Anybody who's considering not voting for Senator Obama because he's black or for Senator Clinton because she's a woman, I don't want their vote," he said.
The YouTube citizen-influenced format seems to be the talk of the town:
A new poll shows 47 per cent of Americans say they use the Internet for news about political candidates.
Fairfax Press corporate affairs director Bruce Wolpe, a former US congressional aide who worked on several Democratic electoral campaigns, thinks the debate matched the hype.
"For the first time really, the filter that mainstream establishment media plays in presidential races - 'we ask the questions, we are the exalted panel' - that was broken down," he said.[...]
Associate Professor Darr says it resulted in a more dynamic, lively and compelling debate. [...] She believes the debate will change the dynamics of US politics.
"This debate has garnered more interest, not only in the US, but around the world purely because of the YouTube phenomenon," she said. "The whole world is watching this debate because it's the first of its kind."
Mr Wolpe agrees but doubts the core of voters' decisions will be any different.
"The Democrats have conquered the Internet just like the Republicans have conquered talkback radio," he said.
"It's a very interesting split in the use of technology but the same values that decide races - leadership, strength, character, values - all remain and they will ultimately decide who is going to get this nomination."
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