Democrats shake up nothing in South Carolina debate

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 27 2007 12:33 AM

No Winners. No Losers

The first Democratic face-off shakes up nothing

In the cable television run-up to the first Democratic primary debate, no sports metaphor went unused: The night was the first game after spring training. It was the NBA playoffs. Obama was a Heisman Trophy winner and Hillary was a strong safety. I'm sure somewhere Parcheesi was mentioned. But after the debate was over, it was as if the game hadn't been played: The standings were unchanged.

The top candidates committed no major gaffes and offered no soaring performances. Obama, Clinton and Edwards didn't attack each other to draw blood as their forebears did in the first Democratic debate in 2004. The campaigns did not issue blanket rapid-response e-mails touting their candidate and knocking their opponents.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Advertisement

None of the top candidates wanted to take the first swing, said their advisers afterward in the spin room where they gathered to face the press swarm. (That tentativeness led to very mild spin; they mostly asked us what we thought.) Obama can't attack because that would go against his core message that he wants to change politics. (Plus, he doesn't need to attack; the momentum is with him.) Hillary can't get feisty because her negatives are already high enough. So, the two front-runners were solicitous of each other. "As Hillary was saying," said Obama. "I think that what Barack said is right," said Hillary. Fortunately, there was no air kissing.

Edwards, who has shown he'll take on the others, was also pretty quiet. He was given a chance to knock Hillary over her Iraq vote, and he only pressed her obliquely. He also made only a glancing dig at Obama as he answered a question about tax cuts: "Rhetoric's not enough. Highfalutin' language is not enough."

This isn't to say that nothing happened at the debate Thursday night in Orangeburg, S.C. Here are some observations:

Edwards emotes. The silliest question of the night got one of the best responses, which is why I'm still in favor of silly questions. Edwards turned a question about his $400 haircut into a story about his humble upbringings, in which he described having to leave a restaurant because his father, a mill worker who was in the audience, realized after looking at the menu that he couldn't afford it. Edwards said he was prosperous now and that he was running for president to allow everyone a shot at the same success. Candidates are always trying to talk about their biography, but it looks stilted in the format of a debate. Edwards was able to do so, repeat his core rationale for his candidacy, and beat back the hypocrisy charge that his advisers knew was one of their big challenges for the night. (He almost blew it when asked who he considered his moral leader by pausing long enough to hear the crickets, which suggested he might not have one, but he rescued himself nicely.)

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Mad About Modi


Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.


Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.