Playing It Safe at Vegas Democratic Debate
A funny thing happened on the road to Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. Things actually got a little interesting in Nevada.
Mostly known for - well - not being known this election season, the Silver State's Democratic caucus finally made its way into the political limelight.
First there was the lawsuit filed by Nevada's teachers union over precincts created specifically so members of the Culinary Workers union could vote while at work.
The provision, sweetheart as it is for Nevada's largest union, had gone months with nary a complaint. So what changed? A concern for other workers who will be busy Saturday? No, it was only when the Culinary decided to endorse Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton that teachers union leaders felt compelled to stand up for disenfranchised voters. Well, that and the leaders are known supporters of Clinton.
Keeping with the litigious theme, tonight's debate almost didn't happen thanks to gadfly Dennis Kucinich. Mad over being uninvited by MSNBC, the Ohio congressman miraculously found a sympathetic judge who ruled the show could not go on without the Ohio congressman. Luckily, Nevada's Supreme Court intervened late Tuesday.
Then there was the dustup between Clinton and Obama on race, which dovetailed nicely with tonight's debate sponsored by, among others, 100 Black Men of America and the Democratic African-American Leadership Council.
Oh, and if that isn't enough to liven up things, the Reno Gazette Journal was brave enough to commission a poll. The results? A virtual dead heat, John Edwards included.
But did these recent storylines produce an equal amount of drama in the debate?
In what one would think to be a last chance to score political points and differentiate oneself from the rest, this debate was excruciatingly polite on almost all fronts.
Whether it was on guns, the bankruptcy bill of 2001, rolling back tax cuts or even the issue of enforcing funding cutoffs to college campuses that ban ROTC programs, all three were in agreement. For those looking for a fight or even a quip or two to discuss around the water cooler tomorrow (where is Joe Biden when you need him), you were sorely disappointed.
So was there a campaign-defining moment or a change in momentum tonight?
No. But that won't stop us from talking about it.
Can one actually declare a three-way tie? If not, then for seeming most at ease and generating a few laughs from the audience, who had been instructed not to applaud, Obama could be called the winner. He managed to address the "Muslim" internet rumors about him with grace, sidestepped one of those "Will you support my bill?" questions that candidates hope will put their opponent on the defensive and had the most original "weakness" (he loses things). He also seemed to have had the most air time. All in all, a strong night for him.
A person could also make the case for a Clinton win as she made no mistakes and did try to go on the attack a few times, both against her opponents and the Bush administration (which, surprisingly, stayed relatively unscathed). She was also the only one to mention how this was suppose to be a "black and brown" debate, but featured few questions on the topic.
It's probably not fair to even assign a loser, except for Kucinich, in this debate. But if there was one candidate that needed to make the biggest impression to boost his campaign, it would be Edwards and he didn't really do it. He did point out differences on nuclear energy, he being the only one against it, and the amount of special interest money being raised by Obama and Clinton, but more often than not he was spending his time agreeing with the two. A good performance, but he needed a great one.
While there weren't any Biden-caliber quips that stood out, Obama effectively defused the subject of whether he thought Latinos wouldn't support a black candidate when he said "Not in Illinois. They all voted for me."
Most Futile Attempt to Generate Controversy:
You have to give Tim Russert credit. He did his best to stir things up right from the beginning by going straight for the recent race controversy. But his questions on if Obama's staff pushed the issue or if race was a deciding factor in the New Hampshire results were quickly brushed aside by all parties. The hatchet stayed buried.
Best Attempted Attack:
On the token Nevada question, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, Clinton called Edwards on his claim of being against it by telling him he supported it twice in the past. Edwards said he regrets it now because "the science has changed."
Most Annoying Line:
Just when it looked like the ubiquitous "change" was headed towards another easy victory, a new contender began to emerge. Clinton and her "I've spent the last 35 years . . . " spiel was annoying enough the first time we heard it, but when she used it to add to Obama's thoughts on African-American fathers needing to take a greater role in families, well, that sealed the deal.