This was a very collegial debate. There were a few shots taken, but not many, and the few that were taken were pretty mild. Is this because Democrats are nicer than Republicans? Is it because there's no Donald Trump in this debate? No. I think it's because no one on the stage truly believes they can beat Hillary Clinton. So why bother making enemies?
Here's how I think everyone did:
Lincoln Chafee had an odd, stuttering style of speech, and failed to distinguish himself at all. His lame excuse for voting to repeal Glass-Steagall will haunt him. He needs to drop out.
Jim Webb did better than Chafee, but also failed to distinguish himself. His main themes were China bashing and Wall Street bashing. But Hillary Clinton has a plenty tough reputation on foreign policy, and Bernie Sanders obviously has Webb beat on hating Wall Street. So what's the point of voting for him?
Martin O'Malley did pretty well. He has a nice affect, and he gave pretty solid answers, even if he did mention "a clean electric grid by 2050" a wee bit too often. He'll probably improve his poll standing just by virtue of not imploding, but only by a little bit.
Bernie Sanders was fine, but he didn't say anything that would change anyone's mind about him. If you want the most dovish candidate on foreign policy and the most hawkish candidate on Wall Street, he's your man. But everyone knew that before. I don't think he'll lose any support, but it's hard to see this performance gaining him any.
Hillary Clinton was very polished. She obviously benefited from the reluctance of everyone else to really attack her, especially over the email server affair. Overall, I don't think she made any mistakes, and she came across as reasonable and well briefed. At the very least, this will keep her poll numbers from sliding any further. My guess is that she'll gain a little ground.
Overall, it's hard to see this debate changing the dynamics of the race by much. There were no big blunders, no memorable zingers, and no sharp attacks. FWIW, I'll predict a small bounce for Clinton and O'Malley, and that's about it.
Soon this space will be filled with lively banter about the first Democratic debate of the year. Come back a little before 8:30 Eastern and the festivities will begin.
10:55 - It's fun question time! What enemy are you most proud of? Chafee: coal lobby. O'Malley: the NRA. Clinton: health insurance companies, drug companies, Iranians, Republicans. Sanders: Wall Street. Webb: the enemy soldier who wounded me.
10:49 - Sanders: The only way to get things done is by having millions of people come together. Meh. But there's no real answer to the question of how to get Republicans to cooperate about anything, so I suppose it's as good an answer as any.
10:46 - Clinton not willing to take a stand on legalizing marijuana. Wants to wait and see how things work out in Colorado and Washington.
10:45 - Sanders says he "suspects" he would vote for Nevada initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.
10:43 - Some good Republican bashing from Clinton. Lotsa cheers. It's only Rs who say we can't have nice things. Everyone else agrees.
10:39 - Everyone wants to address climate change except for Jim Webb, who prefers a bit of China bashing instead.
10:29 - What's the one Obama policy you'd change? Chafee: end the wars. O'Malley: rein in big banks. Clinton: I'd be female. Wants to "build on" Obama's successes. Sanders: need to make government work for all of us, not just millionaires. Webb: less executive authority.
10:17 - Hillary: Republicans suck on immigration.
10:15 - There's been very little in the way of even weak attacks on other candidates. It's not quite a lovefest, but close.
10:08 - Chafee is defending a vote by saying he had just entered the Senate and his father had died. OMG.
10:07 - Minnows like Webb should stop whining about not getting enough time. If it were up to me, he wouldn't even be on the stage.
10:03 - Clinton obliquely refers to shadow banking again. Would love to hear more detail about that.
10:02 - Clinton "went to Wall Street" in 2007 and told them to "cut it out." I guess that didn't work.
10:01 - Clinton talks about shadow banking. Good for her. Not sure what she'd actually do about it, though.
10:00 - O'Malley wants to reinstate Glass-Steagall. That's a weak idea for reining in big banks.
9:58 - Cooper is now just inviting candidates to give a 1-minute version of their stump speeches.
9:52 - Cooper: "Do you want to respond?" Clinton: "No." I guess that shows how much she cares about Lincoln Chafee.
9:49 - Sanders naturally agrees with Clinton. Nobody wants to give the Benghazi committee any legitimacy. "Let's talk about the real issues." Huge cheers. Hillary and Bernie practically hug each others.
9:46 - Clinton: the Benghazi committee is just a partisan attempt to bring down her poll numbers. Big cheers.
9:44 - What is America's biggest national security threat? Chafee: chaos in Middle East. O'Malley: nuclear Iran. Clinton: nuclear weapons. Sanders: climate change. Webb: China, cybersecurity.
9:38 - O'Malley: we need better humint. Yeah, yeah. Everyone wants better humint. How do you plan to get that?
9:34 - Webb is really eager to denounce China. He probably could have waited.
9:32 - Clinton: "I'm in the middle here."
9:26 - Hillary's response to voting for Iraq war: Obama values her judgment. Interesting attempt to tie herself to Obama, who's pretty damn popular in this hall.
9:23 - Sanders: Syria is a "quagmire in a quagmire." I'd probably add one more quagmire to that, but he has the right idea.
9:21 - Chafee wants to talk to Wayne LaPierre in order to "find common ground" on gun control. Good luck with that.
9:16 - Hmmm. Hillary was pretty tough on Sanders's stand on gun control. A sign of things to come?
9:11 - O'Malley's speaking style is oddly warbly.
9:07 - Cooper after asking Sanders about democratic socialism: "Anyone else on this stage not a capitalist?" Hillary barges in. She loves Denmark and small businesses, but hates rising income inequality.
9:04 - Sanders: "We need to learn from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway."
9:02 - "Some people say you're...." This is the worst possible kind of question. Vague and trivially easy to answer. Hillary is having no problem with accusations of flip flopping.
8:59 - I guess we're all agreed: the middle class is really important.
8:48 - Chafee: "I have high ethical standards." Good to know.
8:43 - Is it just me, or was that a pretty bad rendition of the national anthem? Just me, I suppose.
8:38 - Is this intro meant to be a parody?
8:36 - Marian won't be joining me tonight. She's watching the ballgame instead. Smart.
8:35 - I think this debate is scheduled to last two hours, but I don't know for sure. Apparently it's a state secret. But I read a few items saying that CNN had decided to cut it from 3 hours to 2.
8:32 - ZOMG, Joe Biden appeared in the background a couple of times in Obama's prerecorded message! What does it mean?
8:28 - Wolf says that President Obama might watch some of the debate!