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How Some Of Us Got The Debate Wrong

Marc Ambinder makes a good point about Hillary and Edwards in today's debate: "Clinton and Edwards repeatedly wove their answers into a larger argument, and Obama generally kept his answers to his answers." Edwards began or ended (sometimes both) practically every response with a line about the powerful, greedy interests blocking reform in Washington, which only he, a lifelong fighter, would have the gumption to defeat. For her part, Clinton dropped constant reminders of her Beltway experience--noting that she passed a bill requiring the FEMA head to have emergency management experience, that she helped create the S-CHIP program as first lady. 

One other thing to note: Talking to other journalists after the debate, I got the impression that they weren't so excited about Edwards's performance. (That was true of me and Mike, too.) So a lot of us were surprised to hear the cable networks' focus groups proclaim him the winner. But this may be one of those instances of political journalists being a horrible proxy for ordinary voters.

It's not that we in the media thought Edwards was lousy--to the contrary, most thought he was as crisp as ever. It's just that all the material was pretty familiar. If, on the other hand, you were tuning in for the first time today, you could easily have been impressed with his coherence and forcefulness. The man is just a damn good trial lawyer. And the kinds of people he used to persuade in courtrooms are precisely the kinds of people who'll decide the outcome of the caucuses. I still think he takes second (or better).

Update: ABC's Jake Tapper says Clinton's claim to passing the FEMA legislation is pretty questionable.

--Noam Scheiber