The Big Three…and The Rest


That, and other news, in today’s Political Panorama.

The winner of Sunday’s Democratic candidates debate? The top tier candidates of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. The losers? It’s hard to lose when you barely have a chance to show.

CNN’s coverage of the New Hampshire forum, split into stand-up/sit-down formats like a play in two acts, as compelling in that it brought out the fizzures of the leading contenders on Iraq. In the middle of the stage, side-by-side and flanked by the five others in the field, the top three clashed on the war: who voted when for what and why.

John Edwards came out swinging at Clinton and Obama, suggesting that they failed in leadership by staying mum until the very last minute on their recent “no” vote on additional monies for troops. Barack Obama struck back with his own zinger, noting, “The fact is I opposed this war from the start. You were about 4 1/2 years late on leadership on this issue.” And Hillary Clinton tried to rise above it all, shooing off the importance of not having read the National Intelligence Estimate while proclaiming that this was George Bush’s war and that Democrats really are more united than divided on it.

To CNN’s credit, the debate was largely free of gimmickry (no bells or buzzers). Moderator Wolf Blitzer largely held their feet to the fire to actually answer the question.  And candidates themselves stayed away from zingers and slogans and actually talked policy, or their best version of it.

That came at the expense of those in the second- and third- tiers. Too many people, too little time. They tried valiantly to make a name for themselves.

When he got the floor, Joe Biden seemed to be shouting to get his point across, especially when it came to explaining his vote for additional troop funding (lone among the field) as a pragmatic response to political realities. They don’t have the votes needed to override a presidential veto. “Folks,  being commander in chief requires you occasionally to be practical,” he said sarcastically, to a few chuckles from the audience.

CNN did deploy the  debate tactic of a show of hands — which, short of red lights and green lights, is the easiest way to get contenders to actually answer a question directly. When he asked whether “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be abolished, all of the candidates raised their hands, with Mike Gravel interjecting, “It should have been gotten rid of 20 years ago.”

Clinton Theme:
Hillary Clinton’s “Idol” like effort to find a campaign theme song has scored on the web, but has inspired quite a bit of satire.

Pharma Preps for “Sicko”: I’ve posted here before about big pharma’s plans to counter “Sicko.” Business Week writes that Pharma, which reps drug makers, wants to keep things “positive,” but won’t shy away from getting its word out about the film’s “inaccuracies.” They haven’t seen the pic but have heard reports from Cannes.

TV or Not?: The Atlantic’s Jack Beatty writes that Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason” really is an assault on television.

Dialing for Dollars: Al Franken is already tiring of one aspect of running for Senate: The endless time on the phone hitting up donors for money. He writes on Huffington Post that his experience is further proof that what is needed is public financing of elections. It’s an amusing piece, even if it is stating the obvious. Is there any candidate out there who actually likes raising money?

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