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The First 45 Minutes: We're All Friends Here

Neither Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) or Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) seemed willing to throw the first punch in tonight's Democratic presidential debate in Texas, sidestepping questions from the debate's moderators aimed at drawing contrasts and instead hewing closely to their past pronouncements.

From their opening statements through a discussion of meeting with Cuba's new leader to talk of the best way to fix the economy, the two candidates agreed far more than they disagreed -- reminiscent of their previous debate in Los Angeles on Feb. 1. On the question of whether, as president, they would meet with the successor to Fidel Castro, both indicated a willingness to try to improve relations, though Clinton put more preconditions on a meeting than Obama did.

Asked by moderator Campbell Brown how each of their approaches to the economy would differ from the other's if they were president, neither Obama nor Clinton answered the question.

Obama went first, ripping the Bush Administration's policies and promising an economic program that looked out for the middle class, not the wealthy. The first time he mentioned Clinton's name was in praise; "Senator Clinton and I both agree on many of these issues," Obama said.

As he wound up his answer, Obama said the only potential difference between himself and Clinton (and, even on this he hedged) was in his approach to bringing real change on economic policy."It is my strong belief changes are only going to come about if we are able to form a working coalition for change," said Obama. "It has to be a priority for whoever the next president is to overcome the dominance of special interests."

While Obama made an attempt to answer the question, Clinton entirely ignored it -- choosing to offer a litany of fixes she would make to the current Administration's economic policies but never mentioned a difference between her and Obama on the issue.

The lack of confrontation between the two candidates suggests that each feels comfortable with where they stand as they head into the crucial votes in Texas and Ohio on March 4. Or they are both concerned that starting the fireworks could burn them.

Of course, we've still got another 45 minutes to go....

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 21, 2008; 8:52 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: An Actual Debate!

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