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Scoring the December 13 Iowa Democratic Debate


I tuned in late to yesterday's debate but got to see the second half. It was obvious that the in-fighting and cross-firing of rhetoric was lessened. One news report suggested that there was an agreement amongst the candidates to do so. Given the rancor that exists between the Obama and Clinton camps I'd be surprised they could come to an agreement on the color of the sun.

Edwards definitely was more subdued in his attacks, as were both Obama and Clinton, but the digs and shots were still there - just less fingers jabbing the air for emphasis. He seemed tighter and better focused which, without the childish attacks on his opponents, gave him a more presidential air. Likewise for Obama and Clinton, although both seemed more cordial than friendly.

Richardson seems more comfortable in his skin now, no longer an obvious 'second-tier' candidate struggling to shed the yoke of obscurity. And Joe Biden gave his usual solid performance, although I was hoping and expecting more.

Was there a clear winner? Not in my mind, more a stage full of 'non-losers.'

Nobody stuck their foot in their mouth, and the noticeable absence of warring between candidates, which in the previous debate at times seemed as if both Obama and Edwards wanted to put their foot into Clinton's mouth, left less opportunity for any candidate to 'lose it.'

I was disappointed that Biden didn't do better, as I think he did quite well in the previous debate -- scoring big points on foreign affairs, but he never seemed to rise to the same level in this debate.

Bottom line, they all looked tired to me - Clinton especially so - but nobody won and nobody lost. TIME scored it this way:

John Edwards: Grade: A-
Displayed with mechanized efficiency the same confidence and warm populism that he has nearly perfected on the campaign trail. Talked about his family's working-class roots and the daily struggles of real Iowans with the silky polish of the world-class trial lawyer that he once was. If enough Iowa Democrats watched the debate, Vegas harpies would be dumb as an ear of corn to bet too much against this guy in the caucuses.

Barack Obama: Grade A-
Mature and polished -- a reassuring yet passionate presence. He let Obama be Obama by assuredly displaying to former doubters the natural style that could carry him to the nomination. Had some moments that made him seem big and presidential, although not enough to have won the event outright.

Hillary Clinton: Grade B+
A weary warrior who knows she is in a battle. But did nothing to reshape the contours of a race that in recent weeks has not been moving her way. Could have smiled more and shown more passion. No bad moments, but no great ones either, and did not dominate the way she did in most of the early debates. Bottom line: Her "When I'm president..." refrain sounds much less muscular and intimidating now that her "inevitability" has been pierced.

Bill Richardson: Grade B+
Easily his best debate. Like Mike Huckabee, has finally learned to leverage the advantages of being a governor (as well as the advantages of being a naturally likable guy). Seemed to dominate many of the early topics with long, bold, energetic answers. More wonky (in a good way) than usual, but a little less optimistic too. Had plenty of time to talk, but didn't fully seize the moment.

Joe Biden: Grade B-
Fluid and in control on every topic, but too collegial for his own good. Less passionate and more cerebral than in some past debates. Touchingly emotional when defending his record on civil rights in light of a question about some past statements termed racially insensitive.

Chris Dodd: Grade C
Even now talking much more like a senator than his fellow Senate candidates. Did not benefit from the absence of third-tier contenders Kucinich and Gravel. Very strong in advocating his energy plan. Pandered more to Iowans and Iowa than the others.

Conclusion: The Race is Far From Over
The conclusion to take away from this debate, especially true in light of Mike Huckabee's rapid rise on the red side of the race, is that it's too early to count Edwards out of it.

I'm personally a bit amazed at the number of friends and associates I talk to who are firmly in the Edwards camp, and have been there for months. As the Democratic electorate sours on Clinton, and as Obama fails to rise to the occasion and fully capitalize on Clinton's weariness and slippage, John Edwards stands poised to make a Mike Huckabee-like move on the two Democratic frontrunners.

Given Edwards' experience and history I suspect he won't stumble as Huckabee has, and we could truly have a 3-way Democratic horse race post-New Hampshire (I predict Obama will take Iowa and Clinton will win New Hampshire). Richardson and Biden look like strong candidates for high-level cabinet posts, and any two of the top 3 would make a strong Pres./Vice-Pres ticket for next November.

The race is far from over. What we've witnessed so far is the horses prancing as they line up for the starting gate. On January 3rd the Iowa caucus will signal the true start of the race, and it's a long way to the finish line. A lot can and will happen between now and then - we at Wizbang Blue hope you'll stay with us through to the finish line Next November. It should be a very interesting contest, and there's a lot at stake.


  • Fact check dot org (factcheck.org) rates the candidates performance, and found Bill Richardson the furthest "off the mark."
  • The Washington Post's Robin Givhan dissects "ObamaStyle" in a narrated slideshow describing Barack Obama's fashion statement.
  • ABC News looks at Clinton's subtle and not-so-subtle efforts to fight back against Obama

Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!

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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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