That's Why The Lady Is The Champ

Des Moines Register's David Yepsen says Thursday's debate went to Hillary.

Nov. 16, 2007 — -- After two bad weeks in the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, she recovered her footing and pushed back sharply at her opponents in a debate Thursday night.

The event, televised by CNN, was held in Las Vegas and was seen as an important milestone in the campaign.

Clinton's flawed performance in the previous debate and a series of campaign miscues in the weeks that followed indicated the national front-runner was stumbling. The evening gave her rivals a chance to trip her up some more.

Clinton Rivals 'Blew It'

They blew it. Barack Obama had only an average night, and on a couple of questions he seemed flummoxed.

On the question of driver's licenses for immigrants here illegally, his answer was as nuanced and fuzzy as Clinton's was a couple of weeks ago.

Moderator Wolf Blitzer underscored Obama's fumbling by reminding him the question "is sort of available for a yes or no answer."

By contrast, Clinton gave the answer she should have in the last debate: "No."

Also, Obama got booed when he accused Clinton of using logic worthy of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. (That did seem a little canned. His handlers need to provide him some fresh material.)

He also needs a more cogent answer for what he proposes to do with all the nation's nuclear waste until someone invents that new processing technology he wants.

'Edwards Should Have Stayed Home'

John Edwards should have stayed home.

Clinton took the wind out of his sails early in the evening by implying he was "throwing mud."

He never seemed to bounce back from that slap, and he also got hooted when he talked about her as a corporate Democrat.

Edwards also had a poor night because for the first time, the differences between his votes as a U.S. senator and his talk now came into clear focus.

He voted for the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear-waste disposal site. Those votes are at odds with the populist rhetoric he serves up today, and it will undermine the credibility of his message.

Ironically, Edwards' poor performance may be bad news for Clinton in Iowa.

That's because Clinton, Edwards and Obama are in a statistical tie for first among caucus-going Democrats here.

If either Obama or Edwards should fade in Iowa, his supporters may move to the other candidate, making that man the leading anti-Clinton candidate.

And that could give him enough votes to eke out a plurality win over her on caucus night. (Memo to Clinton: Don't be too hard on poor Johnny. You need to keep him in this race in Iowa.)

Dodd Rebuked Foes

Observers can also give lots of points to two of the second-tier candidates, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson. They turned in articulate, presidential-style performances during the evening.

It was clearly Dodd's best debate of the campaign, especially when he rebuked his foes, primarily Edwards, for the "shrillness" of the campaign. Richardson, too, will get credit from voters for his call to "stop this mudslinging."

Dodd and Richardson also showed political courage at various points in the evening -- Dodd for his support for free trade, something not popular with many unions, and Richardson for supporting driver's licenses for workers here illegally.

Joseph Biden seemed uneven. He's excellent when he's talking about foreign policy and judicial appointments -- and bad when he tries too hard to be funny or gets angry. Dennis Kucinich says things a lot of Democrats believe, but he can't be taken seriously because he's not running a credible campaign.