Anyone feeling anxious? It wasn't trepidation about Hank Aaron's record falling (or the sweltering outdoor venue) that was behind the smackdown at Soldier Field last night. From the first round -- when Sen. Barack Obama and former senator John Edwards took questions about a bridge collapse and turned them into answers about Iraq and lobbyists -- the Democrats who aren't named Hillary sought to shake up this static race. It was an old-fashioned trench battle -- Obama/Edwards/Richardson vs. Clinton, Biden vs. Edwards, Dodd/Clinton/Biden vs. Obama, Kucinich vs. Everybody -- opening a new, more combative phase in a campaign that's been going on since approximately 2003.
But if this was the night where Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was a marked woman )and this was definitely the right audience for her to draw some heat) the packed stage and raucous crowd were her best friends. Clinton, D-N.Y., wasn't the only veteran casting Obama, D-Ill., as a foreign-policy rookie. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., had solid moments of their own touting their labor credentials. And nobody -- not even Edwards, D-N.C. -- could get to the left of Rep. Dennis "Seabiscuit" (?) Kucinich, D-Ohio.
To choose but one football metaphor, Clinton evaded tacklers and did a little end-zone dance. The scattershot attacks allowed Clinton to again rise above the scrum -- as she's done in just about every one of the campaign's previous encounters -- befitting a candidate whose lead stands north of 20 points. "I'm just taking it all in," Clinton said, flashing a smile that glossed over her manifold differences with big labor and the multiple barbs she was fending off. "For 15 years, I have stood up against the right-wing machine and I've come out stronger, so if you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I'm your girl."
"The night's exchanges demonstrated that she hopes to stay above the fray as long as she can by talking about beating the Republicans," writes Dan Balz of The Washington Post. "Her concluding comment, 'I'm your girl,' drew applause, and a grin from the candidate."
It was a home game for Obama, but he wound up facing nearly as many attacks as Clinton. Obama's recent comments on foreign policy "prompted attacks from his rivals who have used his statements to try to paint the first-term senator as a naive newcomer," write John McCormick and Stephen Franklin of the Chicago Tribune. Both Clinton and Obama "repeatedly found themselves back on their heels facing oncoming tackles from competitors on a stage near one end zone."
At the nexus of Obama's freshness and Edwards' populism lies a shared rhetorical loathing of lobbyists. It makes for easy lines -- they found multiple occasions to repeat them last night -- and that's inconvenient news for Clinton (who made the cover of Fortune long before she shared $1,000-per-person desserts at a lobbyist's home last night).
Obama and Edwards "referred derisively to her willingness to take campaign cash from Washington lobbyists," Susan Milligan of The Boston Globe writes. Edwards guaranteed voters that he won't make Fortune's cover, and added, "My belief is we don't want to replace one group of insiders with another group of insiders."