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Debate Wrap-Up: Candidates Choose Sides

The Democratic Field
The Democratic Presidential Candidates

The Democratic field split into two factions Tuesday night at the AFL-CIO forum in Chicago, with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Joe Biden (Del.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) on one side and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) on the other.

Time and time again Biden and Dodd faced off against Obama and Edwards on foreign and domestic policy.

Dodd called Obama's willingness to consider the possibility of a potential attack inside Pakistan "wrong". Biden added: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts."

Obama retorted -- quite effectively -- that he found it "amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster... are now criticizing me for making sure we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war on terror."

Biden later called out Edwards for the latter's insistence that he alone among the candidates on the stage had fully supported unions. "It's not where you've been in the last two years, it's where you were in the six years in the Senate," Biden said.

Edwards avoided a direct rebuttal, perhaps loath to elevate Biden by attacking him.

(It's worth noting that Biden and Dodd were greeted with boos when they attacked Obama, a sign either of the unpopularity of those attacks or that the debate was held in Obama's hometown.)

Clinton largely avoided any direct confrontation with her two main rivals for the nomination, content to let her Senate colleagues do the dirty work. She did warn Obama that the remarks of a presidential candidate can have consequences throughout the world.

She showed solidarity with Dodd by noting the two had worked together to protect mineworkers' rights. Dodd followed suit, offering this gem toward the end of the debate: "I happen to believe what Joe and Hillary have said here."

Expect the spin out of the debate to center on these two groups. The Obama/Edwards allies will paint it as a choice between change and more of the same. Supporters of Clinton/Dodd/Biden will cast it as experience versus inexperience.

We don't pretend to know who's right in that spin zone; in truth, each side has a set of valid points.

What we do know is that Biden and Dodd helped Clinton tonight. They took shots at her rivals and withstood the criticism that came back at them. That allowed her to generally avoid any direct barbs from her rivals and kept her from getting down and dirty by engaging in a heated back and forth.

Does this trend continue in future debates and/or the race more generally? We'll be watching closely.

Make sure to tune into The Fix tomorrow for our take on the winners and losers from tonight's debate.

By washingtonpost.com Editors  |  August 7, 2007; 8:58 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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