Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Clinton comes out strongly against hope

I thought all three debates were very well done, especially ABC's. Why is it that the majority of Fox's questions tend to be of the, "Candidate A said this about you last week. He's sitting right next to you. Would you care to hit him, sir?" variety?

The debates definitely benefited from both fewer candidates and from the candidates being seated. I find it fascinating that simply sitting down causes people to generally be more thoughtful, substantive, and polite.

I thought the Fox debate was Romney's best of the campaign and Huckabee's worse. The more Huckabee looks like a typical politician, the worse off he is. That's exactly what he looked like tonight. On the Democratic side, Obama did very well in the spotlight, especially with Edwards going exclusively after Clinton and Richardson running the most obvious "I want to be Clinton's VP" campaign I have ever seen.

The defining moment of the debates and quite possibly the campaign was when Hillary Clinton said, "We don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered." There could not be a greater misreading of the current mood of the country, particularly Democratic primary voters. The Clintons have had an amazing run, but the people who made "I feel your pain" famous have finally become tone deaf to what the voters want. If Obama ever finds it necessary to spend money on an ad against Senator Clinton, I guarantee you that line will be in it.

Nearly as sad is the best idea the Clinton campaign has come up with in the days following Iowa is to channel candidate George Bush. If you recall, Governor Bush was the inevitable candidate. He faced a huge challenge from an upstart who was campaigning on change, reform, and hope. The challenger shocked the world by defeating Bush in New Hampshire. The Bush camp analyzed McCain's victory and the polls and days later rebranded Bush as the Reformer with Results. He won South Carolina and the nomination.

Eight years later, Clinton faces the exact same equation. Guess what the brand-new campaign theme is? Rhetoric vs. Results, Talk vs. Action. In other words, they talk about change, but Hillary's been actually doing it for (as you hear over and over again) 35 years! (By the way, this new slogan replaces "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead." Obama's consistent theme has been, "Change we can believe in". It's like a campaign between Microsoft and Apple.)

Clinton is also attempting to draw a line from Obama to candidate Bush. This one takes so much gall it stunned me the first time I heard it. I would love to have been in the strategy meeting when they stumbled onto to this. The argument goes like this: "I know everyone really likes Barack, I do, too. He's a great guy, someone you'd like to hang out with. Well, that's what we thought about George Bush eight years ago and look how that turned out. This time around, choose the less likable, more experienced candidate."

I can't imagine a single person falling for that argument, and I hope it proves to be the last-gasp of the word-twisting, manipulative, micro-targeted Clinton campaign.

Mark Halperin, one of the best political reporters around, grades this weekend's debate performances:

ABC Democratic Debate, Winner: Obama

ABC Republican Debate, Winner: McCain

FOX Republican Debate, Winner: Romney