After spending a half a day thinking about the debate last night, I've come to the opinion that this was a good day for Democrats. Not just a good day, but a great day for our chances in 2008. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it was a near perfect debate for the Democratic Party as a whole.
Before I go into details why, let me add this caveat: I'm not supporting any one candidate yet. I'm rooting for the Party as a whole, and I'm supporting whoever wins the primary. It is from that perspective that I think last night's debate was near perfect.
1) The front-runners didn't hurt themselves: Clinton, Edwards and Obama didn't look great, but they didn't look bad either. Clinton was smart, answered questions and did what she had to do. Edwards was great at connecting emotionally to all the issues. Obama struggled a bit early on, but then came on strong at the end. Sure none of the front-runners were perfect, but it was the first debate. The first primary is eight months away. There is plenty of opportunity for each candidate to shine. In other words, all the frontrunners still show tremendous upside potential. Sorry, to use the sports term, but the NFL Draft is tomorrow.
Most importantly, none of the front-runners screwed up. No one got a question they couldn't answer (Edwards did come close, but he made up for at the end). No one promised to steal babies in the night, etc. And because they didn't screw up, all three can live to fight another day. That's exactly what I want from a first debate.
2) The second-tier candidates helped themselves: Okay, the big exception was Richardson who didn't come off strong. But Biden and Dodd came off as smart, grandfatherly, and genial. That's a pretty good place to be, considering that I don't think any of these guys will make it to the first tier. But they are potential VP candidates. One thing the front-runners don't have is experience. Having a someone like Biden, Dodd, or Richardson has got to help. In the end, Biden helped Obama jump on Kucinich, just like a VP should. Can we trust Biden to keep his foot out of his mouth? Maybe not, but these debates will help to keep him sharp.
3) The bottom-tier candidates attacked from the left: The one thing that pisses me off in a Democratic primary is where Democrats attack each other from the right (and yes, I'm talking about you, Steve Westly), because Republicans can use those attacks in the general campaign. Last night, that wasn't going to happen. Do you think that any Republican would rail against the Military-Industrial Complex like Gravel did? Or attack Obama for being willing to attack Iran (like Kucinich)? No matter how far the other candidates move to the left, the bottom-tier guys are still farther left. So, our front-runners can look centrist and progressive at the same time. Plus, Gravel is incredibly entertaining.
All in all, I'm very happy with the first debate. But for the next debates, I want to see improvement from Obama and Edwards who both need to get fired up. Clinton needs. . .something that I can't put my finger on. Richardson needs to speak with more gravitas. And everyone else should keep up the good work. If everyone does their job we can get out of the primary with a candidate who's ready to kick ass.UPDATE
: As some of the commenters have mentioned. Clinton didn't look great. There are some who have it, and some who don't. As much as I like Clinton, she doesn't have it. At the same time, she's steady, almost the Tim Duncan of politics.