Survival seemed to be the overriding instinct tonight. Keep it steady. No mistakes. A few calculated jabs. Make it to the next round.
You Tubeable moments were few and far between.
I fear we're in for a more of this Chief Operating Officer discussion. It was an odd, unforced error for Obama to admit earlier this week that he wouldn't make a good COO. He played it off tonight as if that job were no more than paper pushing, but I don't think most Americans really have any nuanced appreciation of the distinction between a COO and a CEO. It's all the boss, and Obama kinda said he wasn't all that good at boss stuff.
Fortunately for him, Hillary Clinton is such a policy nerd that she overplayed the hand she'd been dealt, evincing a decided overeagerness to get in there with and mix it up with all the pointy headed bureaucrats. Woman of the people she is not.
And does anyone think that these repeated comparisons of Obama and Bush -- tonight it was their management style -- play with the Democratic base? Bush's problem isn't a lack of micro-management skill, or that he was likable but inexperienced. It's that he's an incurious nitwit. Obama exudes competence and confidence and an intellectual curiosity that outshines anyone else on stage.
After the week of nastiness we've seen from Obama and Clinton, I think a lot of Democrats looked at Edwards with fresh eyes tonight. And he didn't disappoint. He had energy and spark, and I though he handled his Musharaf question with aplomb. Don't be totally shocked if he pulls off an upset in Nevada.
Obama hit his Are Latinos Too Racist to Vote for a Black Man? question out of the park, noting that such historical divisions haven't been a problem for him in Illinois, where all the Hispanics "voted for me." [Beaming smile.] This specious "Hispanic firewall" argument might have legs if Obama were Sharpton. But he's Obama. Otherwise I thought Obama looked terribly tired tonight and on several occasions seemed to be in danger of dead-ending in a cul-de-sac of competing clauses... only to save himself by regaining his train of thought. It was a B/B- kind of night.
Lucky for him, it was for Clinton also. She looked like she needed a nap. Early on she was veritably shouting across the table at the moderators -- earning a quip from Brian Williams. I thought Clinton's strongest moment was the discussion of the energy bill, which she opposed, and Obama supported, which she effectively painted as the fulfillment of all of Dick Cheney's darkest dreams.
In the end I don't know that we saw any difference making moments. I'm still miffed that Russert and Williams robbed Obama of his direct question when he directed an innocent followup at Edwards. Maybe we'll hear what he would have asked Hillary tomorrow.