On Thursday night, the eight Democrats who want to represent their party as the nominee for president took their first collective step on this path at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, SC. The debate itself was a fairly pedestrian affair with most of the fireworks being provided by the two candidates, who have no chance of winning the Democratic nomination, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK). Kucinich called out Sen. Barack Obama for his position of not supporting the Iraq, but continuing to fund it. “I think it’s inconsistent to tell the American people you oppose the war but you vote to fund it,” he said. “The Democrats have the power to end the war right now, and that’s what they should do,” the Ohio Democrat said.

Hillary Clinton attempted to defend her vote in favor of the Iraq war and her continued hawkish behavior by saying, “If I knew then what I know now, I would not have voted that way,” she said, insisting that “the question is, what do we do now? If this president does not get us out of Iraq, when I’m president I will,” Clinton promised. In contrast, John Edwards called his vote for the use of force against Iraq, the worst mistake of his political career. The candidates rarely stuck to the format of the debate, thus reducing moderator Brian Williams of the NBC Nightly News to solicit candidate answers to two questions strictly with a show of hands. The candidates also couldn’t seem to stay away from the topics of Iraq and the war on terror for very long.

My own opinion is that it is entirely too early for political debates. The Iowa caucuses are still many months away, and the general election is a year and a half off. The truth is that no one will probably remember anything that was said in this debate two weeks from now, but if I were to grade the candidates’ performances it would look like this:

The Winners

Barack Obama– Many have wondered, including me, if Obama was ready for primetime. While tonight wasn’t a virtuoso performance, he more than proved that he belongs on the big stage.

Gavel & Kucinich– These two have no chance of winning and nothing to lose, so they just let it rip. Gavel was the real fun of the night, as he was able to call out all of the top Democratic candidates. He pretty much called them all frauds and hypocrites. He spoke his mind and added a little life to this debate.

John Edwards– Edwards’ experience showed in this format. He didn’t try to do too much. He looked really comfortable, and he called Clinton out for her continuing hawkish stance on the Iraq war. This wasn’t a great performance, but it was good enough.

The Losers

Hillary Clinton– She didn’t seem comfortable in this debate. Many of her answers seemed rehearsed, and she was a bit of a cold fish up there. She did light up when talking about health care, but otherwise it was a very flat performance.

Biden and Dodd– These two often came off as exactly what they are, two long time members of Congress who aren’t presidential material.

Bill Richardson– He seemed to be more of a Secretary of State than he did a presidential candidate. He was also the biggest violator of the debate rules and could not stay within the time limits. His weak answer about Alberto Gonzales didn’t help his cause either.

You can watch the debate on MSNBC.com

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics

Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
blog radio

Be Sociable, Share!