11:04 pm: That’s it for tonight, folks — thanks for logging on. Check out The Note tomorrow morning for a more full analysis, and until then, drift off to sleep with visions of Mike Gravel’s "fantasy land."
11:02 pm: Quick thoughts — Hillary Clinton benefits whenever no one else distinguishes himself, and Edwards may have done himself the most good tonight. Obama squeezed in one good line, but I don’t see that as enough for the evening.
10:59 pm: At least Richarson had a single answer on Red Sox-Yankees. Not the right answer from my perspective, but the right answer for New Hampshire.
10:57 pm: From Jake Tapper: No one has really laid a glove on Clinton. Obama and Edwards were good enough, I suppose, but the clock is TICKING! Senator Obama, the sermon on the mount is not a verse. Senator Gravel, the Beatles are not the Bible.
10:56 pm: "Look at what I’ve done," Edwards says. But that’s sort of the problem here — these are things he’s done, as opposed to what he’s said and is saying. He didn’t exactly fall on his sword over the embarrassing disclosures that have plagued his campaign.
10:53 pm: Another Clinton dodge, on disclosing donations to the Clinton library: "I don’t talk about my private conversations with my husband, but I’m sure he’d be happy to consider that." This is an opening for Obama, who’s sponsored a bill that would require disclosure.
10:47 pm: Nice gambit by Russert to highlight a difference between the Clintons, and Sen. Clinton handled it well: "He’s not standing here right now. . . . Well, I’ll talk to him later." That will be widely quoted.
10:44 pm: ABC’s Jake Tapper: Gravel: "the solution is obviously wind power." Talk about the candidate of La Mancha!
10:38 pm: Obama’s answer on Jena is that he was too busy trying to stop the war to stop by Louisiana? How many times has he been in, say, Iowa in the past month? UPDATE: My bad on this — Obama campaign points out that Russert asked specifically about a rally in Louisiana last week — when Obama was indeed in Washington voting on Iraq.
10:37 pm: John Edwards is taller than Dennis Kucinich. Is this why we’re up late?
10:35 pm: ABC’s Jake Tapper: Drinking age? Is Russert trying to get the Dartmouth freshman vote?
I attended a Dartmouth debate as a freshman there in 1988. Vice President George HW Bush, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Pierre "Pete" DuPont, Rev. Pat Robertson, Al Haig. God, I’m old. Barack Obama was in law school at the time, I think. And Hillary Rodham was just getting used to the Clinton surname.
10:33 pm: Obama didn’t answer that question about whether he’s talking about Bush or Clinton when he says "turn the page."
10:29 pm: I’d score half a cackle for Senator Clinton when told about the "lightning rod." Gravel grumbles: "never got to the real round." Enough.
10:21 pm: Interesting that Clinton is attacking Alan Greenspan now that he’s attacking President Bush (and offering kind words for her husband). All in the interest of defending President Clinton’s fiscal record. (Though, of course, Greenspan didn’t "vote" for any tax cuts.)
10:18 pm: Edwards does want to raise taxes. He’s saying it, and he’s OK with that.
10:16 pm: This Richardson-Russert matchup just isn’t fair. He stumbled on "Meet the Press" a few months back, and not much better tonight.
10:15 pm: Forty-five minutes left, but RNC Chairman Mike Duncan’s seen enough: "Tonight, we once again saw the true face of the Democrat Party, as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and all the rest stuck to their plans to raise taxes, increase the size of government, and retreat from the War on Terror."
10:13 pm: Obama is shooting straighter on this question on the Social Security tax — a real landmine. Probably unfair that he’ll get skewered by the Republicans for it, but that’s the game.
10:09 pm: Biden took the Social Security tax question straight on. That makes Clinton’s answer stand out: "Well, Tim, let me tell you what I think about this…" And then she talks about her husband’s fiscal discipline, attacks President Bush, and never really says whether the cap on the Social Security tax should be lifted. "I’m not putting anything on the proverbial table."
10:07 pm: Interesting point, Sammy, about Sen. Clinton ducking questions. She’s very good at answering without saying anything significant. I do think Russert has (uncharacteristically) let her slide some tonight.
10:05 pm: As a former newspaperman, my lede so far would be Obama’s door-shutting comment — fresh, sharp language, and maybe the turn in his campaign rhetoric we’ve been expecting. But I’d give Edwards a slight edge in making his points and making them solidly. And, of course, Clinton is again playing at a higher level than her rivals. And a boring debate is a great debate for her.
10:03 pm: From ABC’s Teddy Davis: Obama says he was risking his political career with his iraq speech because he was in the middle of a senate campaign . . . But he was in the middle of a primary campaign in which it made political sense to be against the war.
10 pm: Edwards continues to have these odd answers about gay marriage — he’s not comfortable with it, but he wants his little kids to support it like his wife and older daughter do?
9:57 pm: That was a long, long pause before Richardson handled that one. But the time didn’t help him. That question, about his gaffes and goofs, seem to have gotten him off-stride. And that line of "change and experience" seemed natural and solid at the last debate, but seemed defensive and off-point this time.
9:55 pm: It’s nice that Russert is probing the fiscal records of Gravel and Kucinich, but WHY NOT PRESS THIS BIG DIVISION BETWEEN THE TWO FRONT-RUNNERS!
9:54 pm: Obama’s money line appears at last! "Part of the reason it was lonely, Hillary, was because you closed the door."
9:51 pm: Edwards is finding his openings.
9:50 pm: My colleagues found other parts of Biden’s answer interesting –
ABC’s Karen Travers: Biden calling her "Hillary" – does he always do that? Very familiar, but also could be seen as demeaning.
And ABC’s David Chalian: Nothing will bring impeachment faster to the foreground than when Biden said, "When I say old stuff, I am referring to "policy, policy."
9:48 pm: Biden comes closer to making the polarization argument — the "old stuff that comes back" — but he backs away too: "It’s not Hillary’s fault."
9:46 pm: Hillary Clinton really did not answer Tim Russert’s question about her failure in 1993-94. "I intend to the be the healthcare president," she said. That’s nice, but she was the healthcare first lady, and that didn’t work out so well, did it?
9:44 pm: Wow did Chris Dodd ever wimp out. He has been hitting Hillary (on paper) day by day, and when asked to back it up, he makes an Anderson Cooper joke. He was being "somewhat facetious," he says. Tell that to his campaign staff.
9:43 pm: Cackle No. 2.
9:42 pm: From ABC’s David Chalian: Expect to see this clip of Hillary Clinton in the general election — especially if Mitt Romney is the nominee. When Russert asked if Sen. Clinton would "allow the scanctuary cities to disobey the federal law" on immigration, she said "I don’t think there is any choice."
9:38 pm: Gravel called it fantasyland again. Where’s the gong?
9:35 pm: I fully endorse asking about immigration, but this is not going to bring out meaningful distinctions between the candidates. Wasted moments for the second tier.
9:33 pm: One-fourth of the way in, Edwards and Richardson have distinguished themselves. If people were looking for a new, more aggressive Obama tonight, it doesn’t look like they’re going to get it.
9:29 pm: I hear you, Skittles, but this is a two-hour debate. That’s a LOOOONG debate.
9:28 pm: Edwards draws blood, citing the vote today on Iran: "We learned a very different lesson" from our war votes, he said in contrasting himself with Clinton. "what I learned from my vote on Iraq is that you cannot give this president the authority, and you cannot give this president the first step" toward that authority.
9:25 pm: OK, Sen. Obama, we get it — Iraq made things worse. This cannot (and will not) be the line he marches with to the nomination.
9:23 pm: So far, Hillary Clinton is in so much control of the debate that he’s brushing aside Russert’s direct questions. How many other candidates could get away with that?
9:19 pm: Let history note that the first Hillary cackle of this debate came at 9:19 pm ET, in response to the Gravel rant.
9:18 pm: Mike Gravel’s little civics lesson is no longer amusing. "This is fantasyland," he says. How much longer should he be allowed on stages like this?
9:14 pm: Biden is rightfully proud of the "Biden plan" — the vote today in the Senate was really surprising in how many Republicans it attracted, and he’s been pushing it for I don’t remember how long. So far, though, it’s just Chris Dodd and Richardson (among the majors) who say all troops would be out by 2013. Think about that (and Dennis Kucinich wants us to) — 2013.
9:10 pm: Russert’s format teed this up for Richardson — he couldn’t have planned this better. "Their position basically is changing the mission. My position . . . is ending the war." He could go home now and it will have been a good night.
9:07 pm: I’m ready to give the Big Three credit for intellectual honesty by saying troops will have to remain in Iraq for some years. But John Edwards is the first to draw real distinctions about what to do going forward. This won’t be the last time he finds a way to set himself apart.
9:05 pm: Hillary Clinton’s answer is the same as Obama’s (essentially) on whether troops will be in Iraq in 2013. And then she defends the Democrats in Congress, with nice words for Joe Biden and all of her colleagues. Frontrunners can afford to be generous.
9:03 pm: Barack Obama took about one sentence to mention that he was against the war from before it started. But then he said little new about Iraq — he’s still got to make that turn: What makes you more prepared going forward? Will there still be troops in Iraq by the end of his first term? "I think it’s hard to project four years from now." This is an opening for Bill Richardson.
9 pm: Hope everyone’s buckled in — and I love that Tim Russert wasted zero time.
Rick Klein here of ABC’s The Note. I’ll be live-blogging during tonight’s Democratic debate, starting at 9 pm ET. The debate will be televised on MSNBC. Be part of the conversation below.