Sen. Barack Obama got some unexpected help during a heated exchange with Sen. Hillary Clinton in tonight's debate, from former Sen. John Edwards, who snatched second place from Clinton in Iowa's caucus.
Comparing her to the "forces for status quo," Edwards said that Obama "believes deeply in change, and I believe deeply in change. Anytime you speak out for change, this is what happens. The forces for status quo are going to attack."
Edwards also defended Obama against Clinton's charge that Obama has switched his positions on health care and the Patriot Act. "To say that Senator Obama is having a debate with himself from some Associated Press story, I think is just not -- that's not the kind of discussion we should be having."
Clinton shot back, emphasizing, "Making change is not about what you believe or about making a speech, it's about working hard." Raising her voice, she said, "I want to make change, but I've already made change. I'm not running on a promise of change. But on 35 years of change … we don't need to raise false hopes of people in our country about what can be delivered."
And she almost shouted: "I think that having a first woman president is a huge change."
The back and forth got so heated that fourth-place candidate Bill Richardson quipped, "I've been in hostile negotiations that are a lot more civil than this."
And the man at the center of the action, Obama, chose to step back, parrying Clinton's attacks. "What is important is that we don't ... try to distort each other's records" and rather work toward "solving problems and bringing people together."
Obama seemed comfortable enough to take a shot at Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor, who is torn between endorsing him or Clinton and has contributed to both of their campaigns. Citing his desire to raise the cap on the payroll tax, he used Buffett as an example of those who pay too little payroll tax.
On the issue of likability, the debate verged on melodramatic. When asked how she responded to those who question her likability compared with Obama's, Clinton played the injured damsel: "Well, that hurts my feelings, but I'll try to go on."
And she praised Obama, "He's very likable. I agree on that. I don't think that I'm that bad."
To which Obama quipped: "You're likable enough.'
Clinton also found herself on the defensive about her husband, when Edwards attacked the Clinton administration's lack of success at achieving some of its goals and decried the influence of special interests.
And she went on the attack again against the front-runne, claiming that "Sen. Obama's chairman in New Hampshire is a lobbyist. He lobbies for the drug companies."
Obama gave a diplomatic response, giving Bill Clinton "enormous credit for balancing the budgets during those years." But, he added, "he never built the majority and coalesced the American people to get the other stuff done."
Clinton and Obama jostled to show off who would be tougher at taking on terrorists. Obama said that he still believed in his controversial stance that he would take on al Qaeda forces in Pakistan's western territories: "We will strike anyone who would do America wrong."