MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The two candidates with the most riding on having New Hampshire stop the momentum train have a similar problem: They have no friends.
The debate stage at Saint Anselm College Saturday night in Manchester hosted back-to-back pile-ons, with ABC's Charlie Gibson playing referee. And it's the great misfortune of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., that their opponents chose them as the people they'd most like to see knocked out.
That's what left Romney stammering, combative, and besieged, not to mention inexplicably professing his love for "mandates" in the state where the license plates read "Live Free or Die." (Remember the ancient days when it seemed like Romney could never lose a debate? Neither does he.)
It's also what boxed Clinton into the crouch of indignant anger that defined her performance at Saturday night's all-important debate on ABC, her voice displaying a level of shock that she is no longer the odds-on presidential frontrunner. (Remember when she could rise above the field back when nobody could touch her in the polls? So does she -- and does she ever want those days back now.)
The turning point of the Democratic debate came when Clinton started unpacking her thick dossier of oppo research. She sought to paint Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as inconsistent and hypocritical, and chose Obama's criticism of former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., as a starting point.
A savvy play -- Edwards could have been expected to jump on Obama, who with a win in New Hampshire on Tuesday could take a giant step toward sealing the nomination. But that wasn't in the Edwards game plan, not this night, not at this stage of the campaign: "Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack," he said.
Suddenly Clinton was alone, angry, and lecturing. The words themselves don't do the moment justice, but here they are: "I want to make change, but I've already made change. I will continue to make change. I'm not just running on a promise of change. I'm running on 35 years of change."
ABC's Jake Tapper sees it as The Moment. "Frankly, I don't even really understand what she was saying. What I was getting was how angry she is. Not about an issue, so much, as about the fact that Obama is beating her," Tapper writes. "The clip, I predict, will be played again and again and again." (Naturally, it was YouTubed before the debate was over.)
The Obama-Edwards tag team wasn't a planned double-barreled attack -- because it didn't need to be. It was an "alliance of convenience," Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "She fought back as she did when she was first lady of Arkansas and of the United States -- with defiance and flashes of anger, pursing her lips, stiffening her back and staring intently at her rivals," they write.
"When it became clear that Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards, sitting side by side across from her, were teaming up, Mrs. Clinton sat up and pulled her coat tight as if preparing for battle."
Keep that coat on -- it's not getting any friendlier out there. On stage, Clinton missed Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. -- allies in the change vs. experience fight. They would have at least scattered the fire, and could have soaked the flames headed toward Clinton with so many white hairs.