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Dem Debate Insta-reaction


Hillary was sharp-edged and a angry sounding at times tonight--most notably the Medusa look she blasted at John Edwards when he got Barack Obama's back and tarred her as a reactionary agent of the "status quo."

But I think Hillary also showed off her great strength, which is a fluency in policy and a knack for specifics--for instance when she defended herself as a change agent by citing exact numbers of New Hampshire residents who benefit from health care expansions she championed.

She also rolled out some shots at Obama that New Hampshire voters might not have heard before, like his support for the pork-laden energy bill and the charge that his New Hampshire co-chair is a pharmaceutical "lobbyist."

To me the question is whether New Hampshire voters primarily responded tonight to Hillary's substance, in which case I think she may have gained some ground. Or whether they focused on her prickly persona, in which case she may be in deep trouble.  

Update: I've lost track of the calendar out here and it now occurs to me that this was a 9pm Saturday night debate. I suspect the audience was fairly tiny. So what matters now is how the media distills it over the next 24 hours or so. And based on conversations with fellow co-conspirators in the spin room here, I'm not sure there was a consensus among the "Gang of 500" about what happened.

Here's my hunch: Hillary zeroed in on parts of Obama's record--alleged flip flops (e.g. Patriot Act), or little-known votes (for the energy bill)--that really haven't gotten much scrutiny. And the press may pick up on that, at a minimum repeating her charges if not actually running some deeper reported pieces. Although her response to Edwards was dramatic in context, Hillary didn't really blow up in a YouTube moment kind of way, so I don't think that's going to be the main takeaway of the night.

One nugget from the spin room: I asked Edwards strategist Joe Trippi about the perception that his candidate had more or less teamed up with Obama to hit Hillary. Trippi. "Oh yeah," Trippi responded, his voice drenched in sarcasm. "I sat down with Axelrod beforehand, and we said we're gonna do this, and that, absolutely..." (When he saw me writing down his response Trippi implored that I make it clear he was joking--although "sardonic" is the better word here.)  Edwards advisor Jonathan Prince similarly rejected the notion that the shot was anything more than a natural outgrowth of Edwards's message.

--Michael Crowley