8:23 P.M. WOW, the gloves are coming off early! Edwards made a comment about some of Obama's plans, saying that they put control in George Bush's hands, and Obama said "Well, first of all, in a year I'll be the one in control." And then Obama called out both Hillary and Bill, to which Clinton retorted with her perception that Obama hasn't followed through with his war speech and that he agreed with Ronald Reagan. Clinton and Obama at one point were talking over each other and everyone here was like "ooohhhhHHH!!!" Obama accused Clinton of supporting Reagan herself, and now Clinton has attacked Obama for serving as a lawyer for some "slum landlord" in Chicago. I don't even know half of this shit! Edwards is now playing the "Hey I matter too" card, so we're calming down again.
John Edwards is talking about predatory lenders and such, and I'll take this opportunity to wonder if maybe both Obama and Clinton are missing an opportunity a la Drew Westen to defend themselves without resorting to some pretty low blows. Hillary is defending her interest rate freeze plan, which doesn't sound like such a bad plan to me. I don't know how this debate is playing nationally so far, but I don't think Hillary can win with South Carolina voters by tearing down the black man on national TV.
8:39 P.M. Obama has just said that he spent five hours on the project that he worked on that prompted the "slum lord" comment from Hillary. Hillary is still on the attack on Obama, saying that he's done the bidding of the insurance companies and voted against limiting credit card interest to 30%, and Hillary just said "Senator Obama, it's very difficult having a debate with you because you never take responsibility for any of your votes." YIKES!!!! There are still people out there who are using this debate to make a decision, and I'm not sure they're going to have a lot to go on here.
8:47 Edwards just went off on Obama too! "You've done the same thing you've done to us [me and Hillary], picked out certain votes out of the thousands of votes we've cast." Obama is using his support for reforming the death penalty in Illinois to show that he's willing to make the tough decisions, and I have to say that's probably going to score him points with this audience.
8:51 We're finally back to some substance in the debate; Hillary is talking about her health plan, although not quite specifically answering the question which specifically asked how black women would benefit. "Senator Obama, does your plan cover the illegal immigrants?" The answer is no; he's avoiding calling for universal health care, as Hillary has done here. Sadly, this is well-traveled territory for both of these candidates, it's not too interesting. Edwards is pointing out that Obama has taken drug company money and Clinton has taken insurance company money, and that Obama's health care plan isn't really "universal".
Hillary is coming out strong on universal health care, "If we don't start out fighting for it, it isn't going to happen." She's calling out Obama again by saying that he is taking a pass by not going for universal health care. Obama is saying that a good plan will induce people to purchase it, which really is a fundamental philosophical disagreement with Hillary - again being honest, hoping that people are going to purchase your magical health insurance plan sounds a lot like Mitt Romney's position. Like, geez.
9:03 P.M. Hillary is talking about the Iraq surge, and she's saying that she will put pressure on the Iraqi government by withdrawing troops (not ALL troops, no one missed the absence of that word). Edwards is talking about why John McCain is wrong about the surge, which is not an answer that is really going to surprise anyone. Obama is also not giving an answer that's really different than the usual rhetoric, yeah, he's not a fan.
We are just getting back for the halfway mark break:
The people I talked to weren't generally very happy with the very uncivil tone of the debate thus far, and I'm inclined to agree. I don't know that it presents a problem for us in the general, but I think both candidates involved in the semi-personal attacks could have scored more points with a less combative approach without allowing their opponent to score unwarranted points against them. Incidentally, I'm blogging with my back to the T.V. here, and other people have told me that Hillary's body language has in particular been too aggressive. Al Gore lost the election partially on the basis of his step towards Bush during one of the debates that he "won", so clearly there are some lessons from the past that could profitably be applied here.
The question is basically "Senator Obama, should black people vote for you or for the best candidate?" and he had a snappy comeback, "Well, I think Senator Clinton things women should vote for the person who would do what's right, and John Edwards is looking for his white male constituency to do the same." John Edwards is on his poverty stump again, and Obama and Clinton are responding. The Obama folks at the front seem amused by Senator Clinton's answer.
9:30 P.M. Hm, I suspect things are going to get interesting again. The question to Obama is "Do you think Bill Clinton was the first black president?" Obama is saying that Bill Clinton deserves credit for what he did... LOL Obama just said that he's not sure whether Bill was in fact a brother, and Calvin Smyre in the audience apparently got a laugh out of it. Hillary is saying that one of her heroes was Frederick Douglass, which I'm not sure is going to come across as inspiring or patronizing. I wish she could have had a chance to make that comment earlier.
9:37 P.M. Hee hee, Mijha just leaned over to me and said "Do you figure Howard Dean called during the break and said 'YOU FREAKS GET BACK ON MESSAGE, DAMN IT!'", because so far things have been a lot more subdued in this half of the debate.
9:40 P.M. The next question is for Hillary, "Do you think Bill has overshadowed you and your message?" and of course the answer is "No, I'm my own candidate." It's dressed up a lot better than that, of course, she is casting it as "I want to help these people in our country, they are what inspire me." Obama is basically agreeing but of course alluding to the big issues he and Bill have had over the last few weeks. Obama: "Bush and Cheney, the one good thing they have done for us is give their party a very bad name."
9:45 P.M. Wow, John Edwards just said that John McCain is increasingly likely to be the Republican candidate. What? I haven't counted Mitt Romney out of the equation yet, and the only reason McCain won South Carolina is that Fred Thompson took a lot of Huckabee's votes away. If Fred Thompson reverts to form and sucks it up the rest of the way, Huckabee has a great chance of winning Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee on Super Tuesday, and probably any number of other states with a bunch of evangelicals. So I definitely don't agree with Edwards on that point. We're into another break.
9:54 P.M. We're back, and Hillary is playing along with Edwards and assuming that McCain will be the nominee, and she's saying that she can beat McCain at the national security game. Despite Edwards disagreeing with her, I think she's completely right. McCain is Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, and Iraq, and it's a lock that national and international security are going to dominate the election. And all of a sudden the Howard Dean call is out the window and Hillary is going back on the attack on special interest money, lumping Obama and Edwards in with the "take money and help from lobbyists" and saying "you just have to say no". Obama isn't really taking the bait, but he's saying that Hillary can't contrast herself with McCain because she voted for the war with "reservations".
10:01 P.M. This might be a make-or-break question to finish, it's "Why would MLK endorse you?" Edwards is on his poverty stump again, and hey, MLK might have gone with that. It would be interesting to have them answer, "Why would Malcolm X endorse you?" - I think that would be a total win for Obama. Obama is saying that MLK wouldn't endorse anyone, which is a nice idea, and he's dressing up the answer, but I really think MLK would have made a choice just like everyone else - and really, he might very well have gone for Obama, for any number of great reasons. I suppose that was the right answer though. Hillary is answering along Obama's lines, talking about what MLK's values were. And that's the debate!
10:05 P.M. Last thoughts, before the pundits beat me to it: I rate Hillary 50, Barack 45, and Edwards 5, but with the audience listening, I don't honestly think Hillary came out better than 45 and Obama 50. She can't treat the black man on stage, who's between two white people, like one of the pathetic old white Republican dudes one of them will face, and she has to attack him differently. So my prediction, which you should believe as much as the pollsters who said that Obama would win NH, is SC will go 49% Barack, 43% Hillary, and 8% Edwards. Maybe more Edwards at the expense of Hillary. (Full disclosure: I'm a Hillary guy, which doesn't mean that YDAtl is endorsing her).