Clinton seemed to come to the night aware of her rising negative numbers -- her jabs were sharp, but she repeatedly returned to the need for a Democrat (any Democrat) to win.
Yet among the debate's most memorable lines: her concession, when pressed, on whether that winning Democrat can be Obama: "Yes. Yes. Yes. Now, I think I can do a better job." (Superdelegates may need a bit more than that.)
That's the AP's Beth Fouhy's lead: "Hillary Rodham Clinton said emphatically Wednesday night that Barack Obama can win the White House this fall, undercutting her efforts to deny him the Democratic presidential nomination by suggesting he would lead the party to defeat."
But the heat belonged mostly to Obama: "The encounter, particularly in the early stages, seemed more like a grilling of Obama on a Sunday-morning talk show than a debate between the two candidates," Anne Kornblut and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post.
It was a "tense and grim encounter," per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Larry Eichel. "Obama, who seemed on the defensive for much of the conversation about personal vulnerabilities, said that such topics -- including the fact that he rarely wears an American flag lapel pin -- distract people from dealing with the more pressing matters of economics, health care and foreign policy."
The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet saw a dry run for the general: "If Obama does become the Democratic nominee -- highly likely, even if he does not do well in the April 22 Pennsylvania Democratic primary -- Wednesday's debate could be seen as a preview of what Obama will be hit with by the Republicans."
That was Clinton's warning -- as argued in what's really a case to superdelegates: "They're going to be out there in full force," she said of Republicans in a general election. (And they have company.)
"The debate -- while its impact on Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary could be negligible -- also seemed to buttress the central argument of Clinton and her husband against Obama's candidacy: that he will be an inviting target for John McCain in the fall," writes Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown.
"In fact, the questions essentially constituted the Republican case against Obama in a general election."
It was a good night to be a Republican: "The big winner wasn't either Democrat. It was Republican John McCain," Philip Klein writes for The American Spectator.
Among the takeaways: The "dream ticket" is a shared nightmare. "Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton carved each other up, sometimes gingerly and sometimes ferociously, in a debate Wednesday night that focused on some of the worst moments of the presidential campaign and the candidates' ability to win election in November," The Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning and Christi Parsons write.
To the incoming fire, Obama offered what's become a stock response: The attacks, he said, were part of the old politics he's trying to change. (The question becomes whether he'll get that chance.)
The grades from Mark Halperin, of Time and ABC News: B+ for Obama: "Subdued and secure, but often peevish and cross, seemingly fed up with Clinton's fight and impatient to claim the nomination (the less attractive part of his personality shining through)," he writes. "A surly, tepid night for Obama, but he still emerged stalwart and in the lead."