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In Spin Room, No Masking a Tough Night

By Kevin Merida
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- In the lobby of the Palace Theatre here, the campaign cornermen stayed extra late to debate the results of the brawl on the beach.

Quite naturally, every candidate emerged victorious in the eyes of their representatives.

David Axelrod, chief strategist for Sen. Barack Obama: "I think he did well. I think he was strong and held his ground...Everyone knows he is a very civil person. He's also a very strong person."

Axelrod said the spirited tussling reflected the fact that "we're in a close race," and said there has been "a little bit of hubris" on the part of Hillary Clinton and her team and "an effort to tear him down."

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a strong supporter of Clinton, disagreed. It's just the nature of political battle, he said. "It's the tough part of the business. They're trying to make distinctions, so they were throwing hardballs."

Who started it? he was asked.

"To say this one started it or that one started, they both started it," Meeks replied. "But that's part of the process." He did acknowledge, however, "the tone, it got nasty."

At one point, former transportation secretary Rodney Slater (a Clinton supporter) and Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.), an Obama supporter, started jousting. But playfully. "Tough night," said Jackson.

When a reporter eased in on their sparring, they both turned in smiles. Who got the best of it? Jackson and Slater were asked.

"I think the American people got the best because they were able to look out onto the stage and see how much the country has changed over the last 40-plus years," Slater said.

Cate Edwards, daughter of former senator John Edwards, said her dad was the big winner tonight.

"I think these debates can be really rewarding for him," she said. "You saw the squabbling between Senators Clinton and Obama, and I think the American people saw a third candidate who was different."

Agreed, said Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.). "John Edwards seemed to stay above the fray and that may inure to his benefit."

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 21, 2008; 11:11 PM ET
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