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Democratic Debate Preview

Seven Democrats -- sorry Mike Gravel fans! -- gather tonight in Philadelphia for perhaps the most eagerly anticipated debate of the presidential cycle to date.

Why the excitement? This will be the first chance -- on national television, no less -- for Sen. Barack Obama(D-Ill.) to make good on his pledge to be more aggressive in drawing contrasts with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

We'll be liveblogging the proceedings, which start at 9 p.m. EDT on MSNBC, but in the meantime here are a few points to ponder heading into tonight:

* Tone Matters: With expectations high for Obama to go on the attack against Clinton, he faces something of a high-wire act. If he is too passive -- simply mentioning that the two have differences on Iraq, Iran, torture and Social Security as he did in the MTV/MySpace presidential dialogue yesterday -- Obama runs the risk of being painted as confrontation-averse. But, if he is too aggressive in his attempt to draw bright lines between himself and Clinton Obama faces an entirely different and potentially more dangerous backlash. Remember back to 2000 when Rep. Rick Lazio (R) approached Clinton during a debate in their Senate contest and demanded that she sign a clean campaigns pledge? That move bombed as voters saw Lazio as attempting to bully Clinton. Clinton could well benefit if Obama or former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) are seen as pushing too hard or ganging up on her.

* Beyond the Laugh? To date, Clinton has laughed off -- literally -- attacks from her opponents. It's a classic Rose Garden strategy: a candidate with a lead rarely engages his (or her) opponents for fear of elevating them unnecessarily. Watch tonight to see if Clinton continues the laughter strategy or whether she pushes back in some substantive way against Obama and/or Edwards. If she does push back, it's fair to conclude that Clinton's campaign has decided that ignoring her opponents' barbs is no longer tenable with roughly two months to go before the first votes are cast and polling in Iowa showing the race is nip and tuck.

* Whither John Edwards? As the media (Fix included) waits expectantly for the first real confrontation between Obama and Clinton tonight, Edwards must find a way to keep himself relevant in this forum and in the race more broadly. As we have written, Edwards arguably has articulated the anti-Clinton message better than Obama to date but may not wind up benefitting from that fact if the narrative of the race continues to trend toward a Clinton-Obama showdown. If Obama does really go after Clinton tonight, what does Edwards do? Does he tag team with Obama -- as they did at the YearlyKos presidential forum -- to put her on her heels? Or does Edwards turn it into a three-way scrap by hitting Obama on his own reform credentials in hopes of keeping the stories in the paper tomorrow from solely focusing on Clinton vs. Obama?

* Second Tier Step Up: At the majority of Democratic debates over the last three months, there has been a clear line between the top tier (Edwards, Obama, Clinton) and the second tier. Each of the second-tier candidates who retain hope of making the leap -- Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.), Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) -- are running out of time to do so. Can they make it happen tonight? Much of it is out of their hands as the format is likely to give the three leading candidates most of the airtime. When they get chances, expect Richardson to emphasize his plan to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of the year, Biden to emphasize his "three state" solution in the country and Dodd, perhaps, to note he was the first Democrat running for president to announce his opposition to Michael Mukasey's nomination as U.S. Attorney General.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 30, 2007; 5:07 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Live Blogging the Democratic Debate: A Disclaimer


With Clinton in the lead, every rival in Dem. party are wanting to get a bite out of her, I am feeling bad to see that happens. As a Dem. myself, I think all the rival should come to an understanding that we are trying to get rid of Repuclican, and have a new Dem. President in the Whitehouse. We should come up with some better ideas on how to better our country instaed of killing it, though. As for Senetor Edward and Obama, they should try to improve their campain and more ideas of thier own than trying to playing catch-up, and bashing Senotor Clinton. A smile and big applause for Sen. Clinton for not falls into their childest game of bashing each other... Good Job Sen. Clinton, You have got my vote for the White House

Posted by: nguyentax | October 30, 2007 11:21 PM | Report abuse

With Clinton holding a huge lead among Democrats in national opinion polls ahead of the November 2008 election, rivals Barack Obama, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson and Joseph Biden all took turns aiming shots at the New York senator in hopes of bringing her back to the pack.

Who do you think won the Philadelphia NBC - MSNBC News Democratic Presidential Debate? ---->

Posted by: PollM | October 30, 2007 11:11 PM | Report abuse

It is a real travesty that we have so little interest that we allow the media to do our thinkng and make our decisions for us. They have been the unpaid PR people for Climton and have considered her the presidential nominee since the day she announced her candidacy. They spent months before that keeping her name in the news by endless talking about is she or isn't she running. They annointed her, kept calling her the front runner and then came up with the terms, second tier and third tier candidates to subtly discredit their viability. We might possibly have a good president among the candidates the media doesn't bestow their favor on, they don't allow us to really know. Who decides what questions will be asked? What if they give the favorites the list of possible questions so they can be better prepared ? These debates and all the polls are just political events; more free PR. None of the candidates can give meaningful statements of what they want to do in 60 seconds and the subject of the questions are picked by the media. The polls are the views of 500 to 1000 people out of 300,000,000 and if you really believe it is possible to say that 300,00,00 people will have exactly the same views as 500, you scare me, because it isn't possible to know that unless you talk to all of them. They throw around poll results as if they were true of the whole country and we all know how statistics can be manipulated. If you really want a difference in government and a change from Bush, don't vote for Hillary because she is a Neo-Con just like Bush. You know they aren't all Republicans, don't you?

Posted by: RedRose1 | October 30, 2007 9:22 PM | Report abuse

jenmari26--Yep, I am a bit concerned.

Frankly, I am completely aghast at the idea that an electorate could fall for her kindergarten distractions of "what happened to politics of hope" but it appears that intellectual laziness knows no bounds.

Unfortunately the media seems to be just focusing on how the other party responds to this or that "devastating blow" like watching a nature documentary instead of actually fulfilling their responsibility of advising the public of the facts.

Repeating is not the same as reporting.

Posted by: roo_P | October 30, 2007 7:29 PM | Report abuse

there are things beyond Obama's control.
through most of the debates the people have chosen Obama the winner but, the media ignores it and touts Hillary.
the other is the decided Hillary bias of the media. There is daily gushing over how wonderful she is and daily put downs of Obama. What do you honestly think is going to happen with tonight when there is this going on behind the scenes and anyone's control?
A few debates ago Hillary got boo'd and still was declared magnificant. Please.
You cannot honestly believe that regardless of what Obama does the press will give him any credit. It is a known fact that Hillary has gotten a free pass this primary and it's ashame. Hillary is the same as Bush and we will just have more of what we suffered with for the past 7 years.
We will not get the change we desperately need with the press pushing Hillary and trying to undermine Obama. Reminds me of 2000 when the press pushed Bush.

Posted by: vwcat | October 30, 2007 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Chris, I like your "The Fix" and your comments on MSNBC but you have joined the MSNBC and CNN and, and... media crowd that is too eager to get Democratic contenders into a real fist fight. I have heard within the last 24 hours or so liberals and conservatives and moderates and whatever else tell Obama and Edwards how they need to attack Clinton.
Come on, you media people, all of them should attack the viable Republican candidates--all warmongers supreme--even more so than the Cheney-Bush regime.

Posted by: bn1123 | October 30, 2007 7:15 PM | Report abuse

I'd bet that Edwards rips both Obama and Clinton without mercy. Both are proven to have placed corporate money and dirty politicis above the interssts of this country and it's people. At some point, even if it offends a lot of Democrats, Edwards has to call this pair the corrupt swine they are.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | October 30, 2007 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Judging by Clinton's press release today, it's doubtful she will push back substantively. Rather, it appears she is going to try and focus on the fact that Obama and Edwards are attacking, rather than on the substance of the attack. The question is whether this tactic will work.

Posted by: jenmari26 | October 30, 2007 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I have to wonder about Edwards too. Could it be that the Obama campaign is intentionally pushing him in a place where he feels he needs to take HIS criticism up a notch?

Posted by: roo_P | October 30, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I think the main question most Americans will have is will the MSM actually talk about the policy differences between the candidates, or focus entirely on Sen Clinton and the horse race aspects.

We hope it's the policy differences - but we aren't that hopeful, given the Beltway's obsession with Sen Clinton.

Posted by: WillSeattle | October 30, 2007 5:49 PM | Report abuse

The MSM never gave the other Democratic candidates a chance in this election, so why expect them to do so now. Believe me, whether "she" answers questions directly or not, "she" will be declared the winner.
I will likely not even watch the "debate", because if Chris Matthews is the host on MSNBC, it will be dumbed down.

Posted by: bringbackimus | October 30, 2007 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Great news for Hillary ahead of the debate, as early state polls released TODAY by ARG have her ahead in Iowa (by 10 points), New Hampshire AND South Carolina! Full numbers here:

Posted by: campaigndiaries | October 30, 2007 5:27 PM | Report abuse

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