The Note: Pillow Fight

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If this was the kitchen sink, maybe it's beyond time to call a plumber.

What may have been the last Democratic debate was a tense and substantive affair, featuring two candidates at the top of their games (and who know all the plays a little too well by now).

It was also as exhausting as it was exhaustive, with two candidates who at this point could recite each other's lines rote. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., set the fast-paced tone for the evening -- but it didn't look quick enough to match the steady countdown to March 4, not for a campaign that's winless since Feb. 5.

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Clinton now has six days to turn things around, and as she seeks to do more than simply slow Sen. Barack Obama's train, she'll now have to do it without the benefit of again sharing a room with her rival.

Clinton's tools were all on display Tuesday night at Cleveland State -- attacks on campaign tactics, healthcare differences, trade, questionable supporters, and (of course) his relative lack of experience -- yet Obama, D-Ill., more than held his own.

Clinton "was forceful, determined and, in moments, clearly frustrated with her underdog status and what she seems to see as a deck stacked against her," ABC's Jake Tapper and Eloise Harper write. "Obama painted Clinton as nothing less than a whiner, saying her campaign tactics against him have been consistently negative."

She probed plenty of areas that she can (and will) continue to exploit, but knocked no balls out of any park.

The debate "did little to change the overall shape of the race, which may play to Obama's advantage but will also make the final six days of campaign crucial to both candidates," Dan Balz, Anne Kornblut, and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post.

"By the end of the night, there was little evidence that Mrs. Clinton had produced the kind of ground-moving moment she needed that might shift the course of a campaign that polls suggest has been moving inexorably in Mr. Obama's direction for weeks," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.

"It has been a continued source of frustration for her and her campaign. That did not change Tuesday night in Ohio. Mr. Obama, if anything, seemed an even more elusive target."

If there's a comeback narrative left in this campaign, now might be a good opportunity to start unfurling it.

And it was either Clinton's great misfortune or grand strategic play that her most memorable attack targeted not Obama but . . . the news media. "If anybody saw 'Saturday Night Live,' you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow," Clinton said, oddly suggesting that getting asked questions first is an example of media bias.

"When you're behind by as much as Sen. Clinton is write now . . . you have to strike a knockout blow. And she didn't," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said Wednesday on "Good Morning America."

As for the complaint about the tone of questioning, Stephanopoulos said, "Sen. Clinton has a point: She's being treated like the frontrunner . . . Now that doesn't mean that it makes sense to complain about. You never get helped in a debate by complaining about the referee."

(For the record, in the two debates before Tuesday night's, Clinton got the first question in 14 of the 25 rounds of questioning, Jake Tapper reported on ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday.)

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