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Democratic Debate Wrap Up: Clinton Under Attack

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton came under withering attack from her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination tonight in Philadelphia on topics ranging from Iran to electability to immigration, emerging largely unscathed despite the near-relentless focus on her during the two-hour long debate.

Time and again, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) sought to draw bright lines between themselves and Clinton.

Obama, who had promised over the weekend to step up the level of contrast between himself and Clinton, was clearly focused on doing just that -- albeit it in a generally non-confrontational tone.

"The way to bring about that change is to offer some sharp contrasts with the other party," Obama said early in the debate -- in a sign of things to come. He repeatedly sought to paint Clinton as unable or unwilling to be frank with voters about her positions on Social Security and Iran. "That may be politically savvy but it doesn't offer the clear contrast we need," Obama said.

It was former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), however, who offered up the most biting and direct criticism of Clinton during the debate's first hour.

Questioning Clinton's vote for a proposal that designates the Iran Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, Edwards said that if President Bush took the country to war in six months "are we going to hear 'if only I knew then what I know now'" -- a direct shot at the language Clinton uses on the stump when discussing her vote in favor of the 2002 use of force resolution against Iraq.

Again on Iran, Edwards insisted that the measure Clinton supported could have been written by the "neocons" and "gave Bush and Cheney exactly what they wanted."

While Clinton parried most of the jabs, she did struggle toward the end of the debate in a question about her support (or lack thereof) for Gov. Eliot Spitzer's (D) plan to offer driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Clinton called it a "gotcha" question but seemed put off her game a bit as first Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and then Obama and Edwards piled on for her alleged lack of a clear answer.

After a first hour that felt more like target practice with Clinton wearing the bullseye, the debate settled into a far more sedate pace with each of the candidates seeking to make a memorable moment for themselves.

Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) made his by describing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as entirely unqualified to be president. ". Rudy Giuliani is probably the most underqualified man to lead this country since George W. Bush," Biden said to applause and laughter from the crowd. (Giuliani would not let Biden's attack go unanwered as his communications director fired off an unusually personal missive; "Such a desperate attack from Senator Biden is to be expected considering I -- Katie Levinson -- have a better chance of becoming President than he does," it said.)

Dodd got a moment to shine in touting his corporate carbon tax pledge -- by far the most aggressive attempt to curb global warming put forward by any of the Democratic candidates -- and even managed to shoehorn in a reference to former Vice President Al Gore.

Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.) struggled to distinguish himself, attempting -- as he has in previous debates -- to tout himself as the lone chief executive on stage but to little effect. Richardson does have perhaps the deepest resume of an y candidate in the field but really struggles within the parameters of a debate to effectively convey that to voters.

And, of course, who can compete with Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (Ohio) assertion that he did indeed see a UFO?

That's it for tonight. Look for The Fix's winners and losers from tonight's festivities in this space tomorrow. If you have thoughts of your own about who won and who lost, offer them in the comments section below.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 30, 2007; 11:45 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Democratic Debate: Winners and Losers

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