Stakes High Going into Final Democratic Debate
Democrats will debate in Des Moines this afternoon, and this time it could be for all the marbles.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton needs a stellar performance to stabilize her position in Iowa and put her once-inevitable candidacy back on track.
Sen. Barack Obama will walk on stage with real momentum, but a lackluster turn could restrain his growth in Iowa and beyond.
Former Sen. John Edwards, polling steadily in third place, has played good cop and bad cop in previous debates. Which John Edwards will show up today?
For the second-tier candidates, Sens. Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, today's debate represents their last chance to compete head-on with the frontrunners for the large number of undecided Democrats who could well tip the balance on Jan. 3.
The showdown starts at 2 p.m. EST, and will set the tone for the final sprint until Christmas. Democratic campaign aides believe the debate also could influence the Des Moines Register endorsement, expected this weekend and one of the great Hawkeye mysteries of the moment. With six well-qualified candidates in the Democratic field, observers believe the Register's nod could influence Democratic caucus goers even more than it likely did in 2004, when the newspaper backed Edwards, who wound up finishing second.
The debate today will be a tad cozier, with Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel both absent. That's because they didn't meet one of the Register's requirement that candidates had to open an Iowa campaign office as of Oct. 1.
The debate airs live on C-SPAN3. (Don't look for it on ESPN -- the action in Des Moines coincides with the release of George Mitchell's report on steroids and baseball.)
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