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Hillary Hits Back

After months of laughing off attacks from her Democratic rivals, Sen.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
(N.Y.) struck back against jabs by Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) during tonight's presidential debate in Las Vegas.

The fireworks began early on when Obama rapped Clinton on her past equivocation on whether or not illegal immigrants should be granted drivers' licenses.

"What the American people are looking for right now are straight answers to tough questions," said Obama. "And that's not what we have been getting from Senator Clinton."

Clinton responded swiftly, questioning Obama on his commitment to reform and bold change vis-a-vis his health care plan.

"When it came time to step up and decide whether he would support universal health care coverage, he chose not to do that," Clinton said. She added that while her plan mandated coverage for everyone, Obama's would not -- a point Obama vehemently disputed.

Edwards took the next shot, accusing Clinton of double talk on issues ranging from combat troops in Iraq to Social Security to eliminating corruption in Washington. "The issue is whether we can have a president who can restore trust," he said.

Clinton, clearly irritated, said that she had been "personally attacked" by Edwards. "I don't mind taking hits on my record," Clinton added. "When someone starts throwing mud we can at least hope it's accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook."

And, as quickly as the heated exchanges had started, they ended. The audience seemed to recoil from the negativity, and the candidates -- for the most part -- sensed it. Obama largely steered clear of any more direct attacks on Clinton (although he did try to nail Clinton down on her specific plan for Social Security toward the debate's end). Edwards learned more slowly; as the first hour of the debate drew to a close, he sought to draw a polite but firm contrast with Clinton on issues only to be roundly booed by the audience.

In addition to more deftly parrying attacks from her opponents than in the previous debate, Clinton was also more prepared on questions that had tripped her up in recent weeks. Asked whether she supported offering drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants, Clinton offered a succinct "no" -- a major change from her confusing and at times rambling answer from the debate on Oct. 30 in Philadelphia.

It was Obama in this debate who was tripped up by the question. Asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer whether he supported the idea, Obama said "I am not proposing that that's what we do." Pressed by Blitzer -- "this is the kind of question that is sort of available for a yes or no answer," Blitzer said -- Obama said he did support offering licenses to illegal immigrants. Obama's advisers insisted his answer was consistent but the unfolding of the question and answer did not play well for the Illinois Senator.

The rest of the debate played to type as each of the seven Democrats offered their policies on a wide range of issues including U.S. policy toward Iran and Iraq; the future of energy policy; the need for bipartisanship; and the failures of the Bush Administration.

That's our quick take from tonight's festivities. Make sure to check back tomorrow for our winners and losers from the debate. In the meantime, feel free to use the comments section to offer your own winners and losers from tonight.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 15, 2007; 10:27 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Democratic Debate: Winners and Losers

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