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Democrats Focused Their Fire on Bush

The first Democratic presidential debate was largely a polite affair as the candidates chose to turn their rhetorical fire on President Bush rather than each other. The pointed moments were occasional and usually involved the two longest shots in the field -- Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and former Sen. Mike Gravel (Alaska).

Video excerpt of Democratic debate
Video Excerpt: Democratic Hopefuls Debate in South Carolina (Courtesy NBC)

The top tier -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards -- did little to hurt themselves and, in Clinton's case, she may well have helped her cause by flashing her experience and the breadth of her knowledge on the issues.

Obama started somewhat slowly but warmed to the task. His goal coming into the debate was to present 2008 as a change election and himself as the candidate who best symbolized that change. Mission accomplished, generally.

Edwards was steady and made sure viewers knew that he was the only candidate among the big three offering big ideas and backing them up with specifics. The former senator's best moments came when contrasting his health care plan to those of his rivals.

Clinton was crisp and concise, rarely going over her allotted time and keeping to her message of experience and leadership. Iraq was out of the way early (good for Clinton) and she was able to repeatedly reference her work during and after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks when asked about terrorism.

Sen. Joe Biden, too, distinguished himself with his wit and humor. His one-word answer --"Yes" -- when asked whether he could be trusted to represent America on the world stage was the highlight of the night.

Former Sen. Mike Gravel was downright mean, repeatedly attacking his fellow candidates; he even referred to Biden as "arrogant" at one point. He made Kucinich seem like a teddy bear by comparison.

The forum was clearly designed to showcase the personal sides of the candidates. That was clear from a question about who has ever had a gun in their home to asking the candidates to name their biggest mistake over the past four years. Policy made an appearance but personality won the day.

NBC's Brian Williams deserved kudos. He moved the debate at a quick but not too quick pace, showed flashes of wit and injected himself in the proceedings only when necessary.

Check The Fix tomorrow morning for an expanded list of winners and losers from tonight's proceedings. And tomorrow night, The Fix will be at Rep. Jim Clyburn's noted Fish Fry; we'll post a full report when it's all over.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 26, 2007; 8:59 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: The Democratic Debate: Winners and Losers

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