Lightning Rounds

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

Updated

In Wednesday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton had the most to lose, but she didn’t. Barack Obama had the most to gain, but he probably didn’t. And John Edwards had the most to prove, which he primarily did.

The latest forum, moderated by Tim Russert from Dartmouth, N.H., and shown on MSNBC, was billed as the time when candidates, with the Iowa caucus looming, would really go after the front-runner Clinton, particularly Obama, who has a record number of donors and perhaps a sizable number of anxious ones.

Obama had his moments, points where he could distinguish himself from Clinton, but it was Edwards who engaged her. It was as if Edwards was reminding everyone that as attention has so focused on the Obama and Clinton rivalry, he’s very much the alternative. In fact, Obama’s biggest challenge in the coming weeks may not be Clinton, but Edwards, particularly in Iowa.

Among other things, Edwards seized on Clinton’s suggestion that she would leave combat troops in Iraq for counter-terrorism missions. And he criticized her vote for a vote on Wednesday to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. He said he had “no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step to war with Iran.”

Yet the news that was picked up by the debate was not how insistent candidates were in getting troops out of Iraq but how non committal they were, including Edwards. Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson vowed to get troops out by 2013, the end of the next president’s first term; Clinton, Edwards and Obama would not make the same commitment.

Joe Biden, touting his ability to gain support across both parties for a plan to divide Iraq as part of a new federation,  took aim at the polarization of Clinton-Bush politics.

“They feed on this Clinton-Bush thing,” he said, later adding, “There’s a lot of old stuff that comes back.” He paused. “When I say ‘old stuff,’ I’m referring to policy. Policy.”

In other words, he avoided dredging up the Clinton-Lewinsky years. But Clinton came away generally unscathed, deploying her now famous cackle when confronted with an especially egregious attack, or some other joke.

She also scored what may have been the signature moment of the debate. Backing off of her previous support of some forms of lawful torture, she said that she would not use it. “It cannot be American policy, period,” she said.

Then Russert reminded her that she was taking a different position than her husband.

“Well, he’s not standing here right now,” she said. Smiling, she added, “Well, I’ll talk to him later.”

She was less enthused when Russert grilled her about whether her husband should reveal the names of donors to the Clinton Foundation, but she had her moment.

The debate had its bizarre moments, like Edwards giving Dennis Kucinich a friendly bonk on the head, Chris Dodd joking that he gets mistaken for Anderson Cooper and Russert announcing that they would do a “lightning round,” to which Mike Gravel said, “Lightning round, we never got to the real round.”

Either two hours is just too long or there is an upper limit to the number of questions the candidates can be asked. Should the drinking age be reduced to 18? Who knew that was a concern? “Of course they should be able to drink at age 18,” answered Kucinich. “And they should be able to vote at age 16.” Huh? Is that issue on the table too?

Reiner’s Endorsement: Rob Reiner has endorsed Hillary Clinton. Here’s my story here. The director and political activist will hold a fund-raiser for Clinton at his home along with his wife, Michele on Oct. 21, an event that will also double as a 60th birthday party for the New York senator.

More Forums: John Edwards is the first candidate up in the MTV My Space forum. And tonight is the much-talked about PBS Republican debate moderated by Tavis Smiley. Aimed at African American voters, it’s notable because none of the GOP front runners will be there. What will be there are empty lecterns. Seriously.

Feds vs. the Webs: The FCC is asking the Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that invalidated the government’s ability to fine broadcasters for fleeting expletives, reports Variety’s Bill Triplett. If the court takes the case, it will be its first review of the government’s indecency authority in 30 years.

O’Reilly Remarks:
Bill O’Reilly says that the liberal watchdog group Media Matters is “fabricating a racial controversy where none exists,” reports Variety’s Michael Learmonth. Specifically, they have spotlighted remarks that O’Reilly made last week on “The Radio Factor” in a discussion about race with Juan Williams.

Recounting a dinner at the famed restaurant Sylvia’s with Rev. Al Sharpton, O’Reilly said: “It was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.”

O’Reilly says that his remarks were taken out of context.

Denton’s Democrat: James Denton of “Desperate Housewives” will be out on the campaign trail stumping for John Edwards this weekend.

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