Senator Barack Obama found himself consistently on the defensive as he and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton met Wednesday night in a tense debate that left him parrying questions and criticism on issues including values, patriotism and his association with onetime radicals from the 1960s.
It was the first time the two candidates had shared a debate stage in seven weeks, and it came six days before a primary in Pennsylvania that could determine whether Mrs. Clinton can continue her quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. It could also prove to be the last debate between them.
Accordingly, Mrs. Clinton did not let an opportunity pass as she repeatedly challenged Mr. Obama on his record and views -- assisted, as it turned out, by aggressive questioning by the two moderators from ABC News, Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous.
The result was arguably one of Mr. Obama's weakest debate performances. He at times appeared annoyed as he sought to answer questions about his former pastor, his reluctance to wear an American flag pin on his lapel and his association in Chicago with former members of the Weather Underground, a radical group that carried out bombings in the 1960s that were intended to incite the overthrow of the government.
He answered some better than others, and some not at all. But the mere fact that at least five damaging issues were thrown at him within 30 minutes was testament to how much the race has changed in the six weeks since anti-American remarks by Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeramiah Wright, became public.
That was the high-water mark of Obama's campaign, and now the cracks are showing. My bet is that his ineffective answers on Wednesday night will mean more doubts among voters and more concern among Democratic superdelegates about whether Obama is electable in November.
The result is that Clinton, despite her own electability issues and an imperfect evening, scored a debate victory just a week before the Pennsylvania primary. A loss would knock her out.
Last night wasn't a good debate for Obama. Period. But it wasn't a great debate for Clinton either. Of course, that may not matter to her campaign -- in a two-way debate, it's not about which candidate narrowly wins, but which candidate gets pummeled in the post-debate reviews. And Obama is getting pummeled because, well, he did get pummeled, a bit by Clinton and a bit little bit by the moderators. In the first 40 minutes of the debate, most of the questions were focused on Obama's negatives (except for a lone Bosnia-sniper question to Clinton, with no follow up) and that's what helped create what was a near disastrous performance for the front-runner. Obama was weak in a lot of his answers on his personal negatives. (Did he really compare Tom Coburn to a one-time '60s radical/terrorist?) Meanwhile, Clinton piled on, particularly (and surprisingly, actually) on Bill Ayers, the former '60s radical who has tenuous ties to Obama. We're not sure if Clinton's piling on ever is good for her in the long run -- see her current poll standing -- it created some post-debate issues for Obama. Many news organizations will feel compelled to do Ayers stories in the next few days (and they already have). While some may question the fairness and relevancy of the Ayers issue, it's not going to be good for Obama.
Some of the press outlets are criticizing Clinton for -- essentially -- doing their job, although they still don't recognize and admit that they've failed in vetting Obama. Instead they attack Clinton for attacking Obama's obvious weaknesses in many areas - the same areas the press has ignored for months. The same areas that matter a great deal with regards to Obama's electability and ability to withstand the scrutiny the general election holds for the Democratic candidate.
Bottom line - universal opinion that Clinton won the debate where an opintion is expressed, but many aren't giving her the credit for that, and are instead whining about ABC, about Clinton pressing Obama on Ayers and Wright, etc...
Update: Another clear indication that Obama lost the debate is the extent to which the ObamaManiacs are attacking ABC for (gasp!) actually drilling a few pertinent questions towards Obama.
The ObamaManiacs are foaming at the mouth at many of the usual Obama-licking websites, like this post at the Huffington Post, where they don't even try for a pretense of fairness or balance, and the posts run in favor of Obama by a 10-1 margin.
Reflecting what seemed to be the main consensus of the night - that ABC botched this debate, big time - Charlie Gibson tells the crowd there will be one more, superfluous commercial break of the night and is subsequently jeered.
"OH..." he declares, hands raised in defense. "The crowd is turning on me, the crowd is turning on me."
Off camera, observers let out their frustrations. Watch it: (video clip embedded at HuffPo)
The post goes on to cite more foaming-at-the-mouth spew from the ObamaManiacs:
...This is AWFUL. Thank goodness for Jon Stewart and Comedy Central. He does a better job of interviewing and asking relevant questions of his guests in 5 minutes than these 2 yahoos have in more than an hour. ABC should be ashamed. George should be ashamed. Charlie should be ashamed. This isn't a debate. This is a hit job.
...Asinine questions - abysmal debate. Fire these silly moderators NOW. They insult the intelligence of the American people.
...I haven't watched ABC "news" in a few years. I see I haven't been missing much! MORE THAN half the debate turned over to Bittergate, Rev Wright, the Weathermen, Tuzla, FLAG LAPEL PINS? Most of the televised debates I've seen this campaign season have been lame, but this one takes the prize. Either you guys are morons or you think that we are. Either way, I'm glad to have seen the last of you. Really, really bad.No winners in this debate, but a definite loser: ABC "NEWS"
...This is the WORST debate I have ever watched. Never in my life have I been more disenchanted with the news media as a whole, especially a news organization such as ABC that I believed to have some sense of purpose to bring substantive information and perspective to the American people. Americans are tired of the snipping between the candidates and the lack of discussion about what each candidate will do to help the country. ABC News should be ashamed for presenting such a failure of a debate.
I do give credit to HuffPo for publishing last week's expose of Obama's condescension from San Francisco, but even there the post in question was written by an Obama supporter who, after hearing Obama's arrogance first hand while attending the SF fundraiser, was so concerned that she ultimately decided the remarks needed to be out in the open.
Apparently it took several days before the executive decision was made to publish Obama's remarks (which speaks volumes toward the discussions which must have ensued over whether to publish the story or not), and obviously the Obama-lickers over at the Huffington Post are equally foamy over the fact that their executive staff decided to run the story. Yesterday's anti-Clinton misogyny by Paul Loeb is just one example.
Pollster Frank Lutz talks to the Fox News debate focus group:
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