As I've said, I thought Hillary generally failed to connect on the jabs she threw at Obama. She often struck me as whiny and peevish. But I also thought the format and the questioning were tilted slightly against her. If a lot of voters felt the same way, I could see the peevishness coming across as admirable toughness. Maybe they felt sympathetic toward her for duking it out under the circumstances, much like they did when it appeared Edwards and Obama had ganged up on her in New Hampshire. Even the biggest clanger of all--Hillary's "Saturday Night Live" line--could have worked, in that it drew attention to her somewhat rougher treatment.*
And if many viewers watched Chris Matthews and Tim Russert yuk it up after the debate, the effect will almost certainly be positive for her. Matthews kept egging Russert on, trying to get him to admit he'd reeled in a marlin, Hemingway-style, by getting Hillary to say she regreted her war vote. (That's Matthews' metaphor, not mine.) Russert sort of demurred, but you could tell he was loving the moment. All in all, way too much frat-boy bravado there for my taste. And if it creeped me out, I'm guessing it had a much stronger effect on, say, educated women, a demographic Hillary has to win. Watch to see where they go Tuesday. If they stick with Hillary, she may have her friends at MSNBC to thank all over again.
*On the other hand, maybe there are only so many times you can benefit from a sympathy backlash. Maybe what once looked sympathetic just looks pathetic at some point, and voters start to give up on you. Who the hell knows...