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Democrats Gather in S.C. for CNN/YouTube Debate

The Fix is en route to Charleston, S.C., today for another (!) presidential debate. This time it's the Democrats and there's a twist: Instead of a moderator asking questions, the questions will come from people across the country via Youtube. Anderson Cooper of CNN will be on hand to ask follow-ups.

The format of tonight's debate is different, but the issues are likely to be along the same lines that we've seen in the debates to date: The war in Iraq, health care, terrorism and the economy. Let's hope a few of the video questions force the candidates to think a bit on their feet and even engage one another.

We'll give you an update once we are on the ground at the debate site, but in the meantime here's a quick look at what to expect from the Big 4 tonight:

Hillary Rodham Clinton: There's been no debate (wink, wink) about the best performer in the first several joint appearances of the the campaign. Clinton has come across as polished, magnanimous and, well, presidential. She also enters tonight's debate on a polling high, as a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey shows Clinton at 39 percent, with Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) at 25 percent and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) at 15 percent.

Barack Obama: Obama's campaign acknowledges privately that debates are not their candidate's preferred format. But to Obama's credit, he has improved over the first several debates and could be poised for a strong showing tonight. Obama, to date, has avoided directly confronting Clinton -- choosing instead to draw implicit contrasts about their respective positioning on the war. There's no question that if he hopes to defeat Clinton next year, he'll have to make his differences with the former first lady more apparent. Does that differentiation process start in earnest tonight? Here's what an Obama adviser had to say about his candidate tonight: "Watch for Obama to deliver a forceful call for change, contrasting other candidates' focus on old fights and yesterday's news."

John Edwards: There is a perception among the political chattering classes that Edwards's campaign is losing momentum. Tonight is a good chance for Edwards to reverse that sentiment with a strong performance. In the first several debates, Edwards struggled for attention, as most of the eyes (and coverage) centered on Clinton and Obama. But Edwards has started to draw sharper contrasts over the past weeks with Clinton and could well use the national platform tonight to take the fight to her. Attacking Clinton directly is a tricky business, however. Just ask Rick Lazio.

Bill Richardson: Richardson's fundraising in the second quarter was surprisingly strong, and his early ads in Iowa and New Hampshire are helping him move up in the polls. And yet, no candidate has been more disappointing in the debates than Richardson. He has looked awkward on stage and unable to trim his answers to the required format. His advisers are no doubt aware of these problems, so look for Richardson to be a bit smoother tonight (it would be almost impossible for him to be less smooth). Expect Richardson also to focus on his plan to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of the year -- an attempt to distinguish his position from those of Clinton, Obama and Edwards.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 23, 2007; 8:07 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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