Dems Debate: No Shoot-out in Texas, as Clinton Halfheartedly Goes After Obama

| Fri Feb. 22, 2008 12:33 AM EST

obama-clinton250x200.jpg Asked if Barrack Obama was ready to be commander in chief, Hillary Clinton ducked the question. When Obama suggested she is not as willing as he is to confront the special interests of Washington, she did not engage. Offered the chance to blast Obama for vowing to meet with the dictatorial leaders of North Korea and Iran in his first year as president, she took a pass. When Clinton did go on the attack at Thursday night's debate in Austin, Texas, she chose to focus on Obama's use of several speech lines borrowed (or plagiarized, according to the Clinton camp) from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a supporter of Obama. That was, she said, "not change you can believe in; it's change you can Xerox."

With the zinger, Clinton was trying to reinforce one of her campaign's themes: I offer solutions; he offers words. But during this portion of the debate, Obama came on strong. He brushed aside the plagiarism accusation as part of the "silly season in politics," and noted that the fine words of his eloquent speeches convey not only hope and inspiration but also support proposals for tuition tax credits for college, tax relief for working families, and military disengagement in Iraq. And Obama explained that inspiration is essential because "if we can't inspire the American people to get involved in their government," Washington will continue to be a city of gridlock dominated by corporate lobbyists. Clinton didn't have much of a reply to that. She did continue stick to her my-actions-speak-louder-than-his-words assault. But there was no new punch to this now routine line, and she appeared to gain no new ground in the battle between (his) hope and (her) experience.

Which means the debate was no game changer. Obama, who has not been his best at debates earlier in the campaign, performed well in Austin before a pumped-up crowd that cheered on both candidates. (Kudos to CNN for not shushing the candidates' supporters.) Clinton performed well, too, especially when it came to demonstrating her command of policy details and ticking off her legislative accomplishments. But at this point, she needs to do better than well and clobber Obama, and that did not happen. A recent poll in Texas--which holds its primary on March 4--shows the race between the two a statistical dead heat. That is, Obama, if the polls are to be believed, is catching her in the crucial state. And polls in Ohio--the other big prize on March 4--show Obama nipping at a still-significant Clinton lead. But there's still plenty of time for him to close in on her in the Buckeye State.

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