But I watched some of the Democratic debate tonight. A few thoughts:
This was not the best venue for Barak Obama. He was pretty good substantively (although he went a bit overboard in his focus on pursuing Al Qaeda in Afghanistan), but his answers, particularly early on, were not as smooth or strong as they should be. It is a bit surprising to me since the first time I saw Obama was in a televised debate for the Illinois senate primary. Obama was not one of the favored candidates in the race (and I had never even heard of him prior to tuning in), but he blew everyone else off the stage. He can do better than he did tonight, although it would be difficult to ever match the eloquence of his speeches in a debate format.
Hillary Clinton did a fine job. Most of what she had to say on Iraq and terrorism was moronic, but that was hardly unexpected. Her answers on everything else were strong, and she did a great job calling out Wolf Blitzer several times for asking unfair questions. Her performance has given me some confidence that she could win the general election, but I still worry about whether she would actually make a good president if she won.
There are moments when I really like John Edwards. At his best he can be the most honest and serious of all the Democratic candidates, but too often he panders directly to the DailyKos brand of hardline liberalism. And on a superficial level he doesn't carry the same level of gravitas that Clinton and Obama do. This is a significant problem in its own right, but especially so for someone whose degree of liberalism will leave him open to attacks on national security and terrorism. He can't afford to come off as a lightweight. But in any case, I was quite happy with what I saw from Obama, Clinton, and Edwards as a group. Any of them would make a much stronger general election candidate than Kerry was in 2004.
As for the rest, while none of them have a snowball's chance in hell, Joe Biden did a nice job and I'm happy to have him up there speaking his part. The others were mostly a waste of airtime. Richardson has gotten some press as being someone who could break into the top tier, but he might have been the weakest of the lot (which is saying something with Gravel and Kucinich out there). Hopefully the pack will start to thin out so that the main contenders can get more time at future events (although I expect Gravel and Kucinich will annoyingly hold out until the bitter end just to enjoy the free airtime).