Hello, and welcome to Dartmouth, and the kickoff debate of the fall season, which apparently is different from those practice debates of the spring/summer season. Tonight, the Dems will aim to prove it — and, with Hillary Clinton the frontrunner to knock down a peg, pundits are predicting that tonight, the gloves will come off. Will they? We'll find out when you do, and we'll be liveblogging every second of it on yet another installment of our patented HuffPo Debate Liveblog Series — where we watch the debates and critique the candidates in real time. Tonight HuffPo mainstay Glynnis MacNicol and your trusty ETP editor Rachel Sklar (me) will be evaluating your candidates, plus making frequent reference to moderator Tim Russert's giant head, because let's face it, that thing is huge. Join us, won't you — here we go!
Glynnis (9:06:00 PM): Welcome to the first Democratic debate of the Prime Time season! The Caucus is saying that this is the political equivalent of a television fall premiere.
Rachel (9:12:38 PM): Heroes!
Glynnis (9:06:45 PM): It is fair to assume that after Hillary's strong showing this week, and "full Ginsburg," the gloves might be coming off. This isn't a vote for "class president," after all.
Rachel (9:07:08 PM): For the uninitiated, the "full Ginsburg" refers to taking a spin across the dial on all five Sunday morning shows, in honor of William Ginsburg, former lawyer for Bill Clinton during l'affaire Monica Lewinsky. It does not refer to wearing giant glasses and long black robes.
Glynnis (9:07:31 PM): The first question is to Obama regarding troop withdrawal. Obama says that he wants everyone out. Hillary basically repeats her answer from Sunday's shows and says we will have to withdraw responsibly. Edwards is coming on strong, saying that he will maintain an embassy, but wants troops out.
Rachel (9:08:38 PM): At this point, Edwards really needs to distinguish himself in these debates - he is doing well on the campaign trail but during the debates, inevitably the soundbites and TV clips go to Hillary and Obama. So strength from him is not surprising (let's just hope that no one pops a rib).
Glynnis (9:10:35 PM): Richardson now - who's hair looks suspiciously thick - wants to all the troops out. In one year.
Rachel (9:10:43 PM): You are so on top of the candidate hair situation. Yet another thing you bring to this process. For my part, I think Dodd's is looking very grabbable (I'm not going to touch Edwards' hair here...probably because it would muss it up).
Glynnis (9:11:05 PM): The crowd has been strangely quiet thus far.
Rachel (9:12:38 PM): It has! I understand that a relatively small proportion of the audience is actually made up of Dartmouth students. But it's a far cry from the labor audience...or the Univision audience!
Glynnis (9:11:40 PM): Richardson says leaving any troop behind will keep us from establishing stability in the region. Dodd says problem in not only withdrawal of troops but why are we there? Our policy is making us less safe.
Rachel (9:12:38 PM): Leading with Iraq allows each candidate to establish themselves as strong and confident, since none of these questions are surprising and there are so many hot buttons to push here. The whole slate seems more sure here.I will say that the candidates all seem to have reviewed footage of past debates and learned from it - bold, strong colors, more confident bearings across the board.
Glynnis (9:12:45 PM): Dodd has switched to a blue shirt. Interesting choice. Very technicolor.
Rachel (9:13:08 PM): Right. Dodd, Richardson, Edwards - bold, strong tie colors. Pooh-pooh if you want, but it's TV - these things matter (see here.)
Rachel (9:13:34 PM): (Though that doesn't apply to Russert, who is looking a tad rumpled.)
Glynnis (9:13:27 PM): Tim Russert looks the opposite of technicolor. Bad cold?
Rachel (9:14:02 PM): Bad tie.
Rachel (9:14:09 PM): You know, this actually DOES feel a little different. The answers feel less scripted.
Glynnis (9:14:39 PM): It feels serious. No longer a dress rehearsal.
Glynnis (9:17:46 PM): Kucinich says he will definitely have troops out by April 2007. Until Russert points out that was four months [and six debates] ago.
Rachel (9:18:38 PM): Nice recovery by Kucinich about being ready to be President right now. (Kucinich: Also part of the strong-tie club.)
Rachel (9:18:49 PM): Gravel gets the floor, uses it to bash war. "Shame on you Hillary!" Russert allows her to respond - her laugh was a tad inappropriate, given the gravity of his accusation. You can dismiss Gravel but not the sentiment.
Rachel (9:19:44 PM): She recovers though, and - typically, emits strength and poise. The bottom line is that she has the substance, but knows how to package it, too.
Rachel (9:20:10 PM): I have to say, Dodd looks fantastic. Like, George Hamilton-ish. Very cabinet-position-appointee-appropriate.
Glynnis (9:21:24 PM): Gravel says if he was senator now he would be voting against the President daily (I'm paraphrasing slighty, but you get the picture). He then congratulates Biden and Dodd for their vote against declaring Iran a "foreign terrorist organization."
Glynnis (9:22:04 PM): is Tim the first one taking off the gloves?
Glynnis (9:22:20 PM): The question is, would the Israelis be justified in launching an attack if they feel threatened by Iran?
Rachel (9:23:14 PM): Battle of wills between Hillary and Tim!
Rachel (9:23:16 PM): And she wins!
Glynnis (9:23:58 PM): Hillary is refusing to deal in hypotheticals
Glynnis (9:24:34 PM): First audience reaction in response to Hillary refusing to and Tim's question.
Rachel (9:24:52 PM): Wow. That was interesting to watch. Especially since you don't often see it on MTP.
Glynnis (9:27:38 PM): Obama is hemming and hawing a bit, too. But stressing diplomatic relations.
Glynnis (9:28:18 PM): He also has a great red candy-cane like tie on.
Rachel (9:41:47 PM): BIden smacks down Giuliani!! "Rudy Giuliani doesn't know what he's talking about - he's the most uninformed person on foreign policy running for president!" Wow, awesome. Biden makes this race more exciting, and fun, and substantive.
Rachel (9:42:15 PM): Immigration now - Kucinich reminds us all of the Statue of Liberty - "Give me your tired, your poor..." He TOTALLY ripped that off from the Republicans.
Glynnis (9:42:47 PM): Gravel wants EVERYONE here. Come one, come all! No holds barred!
Rachel (9:42:53 PM): A note: I haven't seen a single young face so far. It's a little shameful, actually.
Glynnis (9:43:16 PM): First commercial break. And...we're back!
Glynnis (9:43:44 PM): Russert tries to put Dodd on the spot by asking him about his statement that Hillary's nomination would be ideal for the GOP party.
Rachel (9:43:52 PM): Dodd! Nice zingers re: Brownie and Mission Accomplished when discussing Bush's prediction that Hillary would be the nominee.
Glynnis (9:44:05 PM): Hillary lightens the mood by laughing first. Russert isn't letting him off. Dodd suggests that Russert is trying to stir things up. But, he doesn't bite.
Rachel (9:44:22 PM): Why does Bush want Hillary to be the nominee? Dodd dodges. Why? We all know it's because she's a lightning rod for Republicans, and will get out the vote in droves.
Glynnis (9:45:04 PM): Dodd's far enough behind to keep one eye on the VP.
Rachel (9:45:08 PM): Russert raps Hillary on health care, asking her about her self-described "fundamental misjudgments" on health care and her Iraq war vote. Great set-up — because Hillary knows how to play this, exactly.
Rachel (9:45:58 PM): And by the way, she didn't exactly screw up health care herself, you know. She DID have help!
Glynnis (9:46:03 PM): She's staked out a smart, successful position on health care. And it's working.
Rachel (9:46:25 PM): And she will never budge on that Iraq war vote: With the information she had at her disposal, she does not regret her vote. If you want to blame someone, blame Bush.
Rachel (9:46:52 PM): Health care: "The highest domestic priority right now."
Glynnis (9:46:56 PM): Perhaps in fourteen years she will be as eager to take responsibility for her Iraq vote.
Rachel (9:47:47 PM): Zing!
Rachel (9:47:49 PM): She is really handling this extremely well. This is a lucid, thoughtful and reactive answer - she isn't spouting talking points, she's addressing the fundamentals of Russert's follow-up with the information she naturally has at her disposal. Right on. Glynnis (9:48:26 PM): Wow. Russert is trying to aim everyone at Hillary.
Rachel (9:48:39 PM): Well, that's really what everyone wants at this point.The role of the moderator is to guide the debate, and to push the needle.
Glynnis (9:48:47 PM): Biden won't bite, either. "It's not Hillary's fault"
Rachel (9:49:17 PM): Ha! Now he's trying to get Edwards to elaborate on "mismanagement" of the health care issue.
Glynnis (9:49:26 PM): And it is interesting to see ALL the candidates back off attacking Hillary.
Rachel (9:49:36 PM): Edwards doesn't bite either. So Russert's efforts to get people to jump on Hillary is resulting in a health-care love-in.
Glynnis (9:49:54 PM): Of course Russert has yet to get to Gravel or Kucinich, or Obama for that matter.
Rachel (9:50:27 PM): Edwards: As president, if his team didn't have a plan for Universal Healthcare by July 2009, they all lose theirs. "There is no excuse for politicians in Washington to have health care if America does not have health care." Applause!
Rachel (9:50:38 PM): Russert has no time for applause - he cuts it short.
Rachel (9:50:43 PM): This is the nitty-gritty debate.
Glynnis (9:50:37 PM): No one is laughing. literally. Except Hillary who lately seems to be perfecting the casual, deflecting, chuckle.
Rachel (9:51:57 PM): John Edwards gestures with his fist as though he's holding Dole's pen.
Glynnis (9:52:34 PM): Obama doesn't seem to be seizing the opportunity to establish himself as a force. Edwards is doing a much better job at seizing his time.
Rachel (9:52:54 PM): Not so fast - "Telling the truth to the American people even when it's tough" - this is a great answer. He does a good job at making his record sound impressive and very team-player-ish, and his purpose part of something bigger.
Glynnis (9:53:57 PM): He is also subtly making the point that all the health care plans are VERY similar, and it will be about who has the drive and inspiration to implement.
Glynnis (9:55:49 PM): Now, Russert is going after Gravel and Kucinich. Gravel's condo business went under. Kucinich bankrupted Cleavland?
Rachel (9:56:12 PM): I, too, had no idea on that score.
Glynnis (9:56:39 PM): Interesting to see these two outspoken (arguably entertaining) candidates on the defensive.
Rachel (9:56:39 PM): But Kucinich is rising to it, in his own defense.
Glynnis (9:57:04 PM): Kucinich owns the answer. He was not afraid to stand up to the banks.
Rachel (9:57:17 PM): If I knew anything about the facts of that case I could react better, but seriously of all the issues on the table this is just not that relevant. Fair, in terms of a multi-candidate debate, but just not that relevant to the practical outcome.
Rachel (9:57:33 PM): Wow.Russert just asked Richardson about his foot-in-mouth disease.
Rachel (9:57:52 PM): "I may not be the perfect blow-dried candidate..." potshot?
Glynnis (9:58:54 PM): Richardson has received FOUR Nobel peace prize nominations? Wow. had no idea.
Glynnis (9:59:52 PM): This audience questioner is not a member of the audience (technically) she's Alison Owen's from a local TV.
Glynnis (10:00:37 PM): Question: Would the candidates support a book about two princes getting married being read to their children?
Rachel (10:00:42 PM): Edwards is suddenly all for gay marriage...actually, this is a good answer.
Glynnis (10:01:13 PM): Edwards says yes. And (admirably) points out that his daughter Kate who is twenty-five doesn't understand why it's not legal.
Rachel (10:01:22 PM): But yeah, it's so hard to take his answer in support of having kids exposed to same-sex relationships without remembering how he's responded in the past.
Glynnis (10:01:56 PM): Obama also has young children and feels "similar to John." And then says the government must stop fanning people's fears.
Glynnis (10:03:36 PM): Clinton takes the long view...and then says it's a matter of parental discretion.
Glynnis (10:10:46 PM): Commercial - and we're back. Tim is asking about social security.
Glynnis (10:12:09 PM): Hillary focuses on fiscal responsibility. Tim in on Hillary about details!
Glynnis (10:12:39 PM): Wow, Tim and Hillary are going back and forth on percentages. One more battle of wills between them.
Rachel (10:12:42 PM): She said 2055 he says 2038.
Glynnis (10:13:06 PM): And Hillary is not taking it...does anyone really doubt that Hillary is clear on the details? Arguing the finer points with her seems to be a losing battle.
Rachel (10:13:29 PM): This is a candidate who is extremely well-prepared. She WELCOMES a debate over details!
Glynnis (10:13:48 PM): Hillary is not putting anything on the "proverbial table." Dodd is answering the question by addressing the camera directly.
Glynnis (10:16:02 PM): Full disclosure: this debate is being liveblogged by two Canadians...social security details are always a little fuzzy.
Rachel (10:16:12 PM): This might be a good time to point out that the Canadian and U.S. dollars are at parity. Which basically means that hell has frozen over.
Glynnis (10:16:27 PM): Back to the social security budget: Russert wants Richardson to know this isn't funny money!!
Rachel (10:16:42 PM): See above re: Canadian funds.
Glynnis (10:17:15 PM): Russert says that in case Richardson wasn't aware when Roosevelt created this life expectancy was sixty-five. People were in and out of the program in a matter of months!!
Glynnis (10:21:41 PM): Hillary is jumping in here - after Dodd - and getting fired up! Fiscal responsibility must come first!
Glynnis (10:22:11 PM): I'm not sure Russert really likes Hillary. Just as a side note.
Rachel (10:22:21 PM): Ha. What tipped you off?
Glynnis (10:23:10 PM): Now the question is, Should there be a national law to ban smoking? Hillary says it should be local - and that business actually increased in NYC when smoking was banned...hmm, I know I said not to argue details with Hillary, but I'm not convinced on that.
Glynnis (10:24:33 PM): Kucinich owns the laugh by saying he has been breathing in a lot of second hand smoke here tonight!
Glynnis (10:25:24 PM): Back to Alison Owen in the audience. And also a Howard Dean spotting.
Rachel (10:25:46 PM): And a young person spotting. A first.
Rachel (10:25:58 PM): Biden: "You've got to calculate the cost here" - good approach. Cost of alcoholism, drunk driving accidents, babies born to alcoholics. Good approach.
Glynnis (10:28:42 PM): Gravel says that anyone who can fight and die for this country should be able to drink. To big applause.
Rachel (10:28:46 PM): Well, he does have a point there. Though a backward, cheap one - protection of the troops over there but not over here?
Glynnis (10:28:53 PM): Kucinich says the voting age should be sixteen.
Glynnis (10:30:17 PM): Richardson says that we spend the same amount on the Iraq war in two weeks that we spend yearly on cancer research. A case of misplaced priorities.
Rachel (10:30:46 PM): Now that is a good answer. Put it in context, and how.
Rachel (10:33:36 PM): Lightning round! 30 seconds for an answer...there is no way that Obama didn't just go over it. It felt like it.
Rachel (10:34:07 PM): Russert to Clinton: "Is it healthy for a democracy to have a two-family political dynasty?"
Rachel (10:34:45 PM): Her answer is great: Humor ("I thought Bill was a pretty good president!") and strength ("I'm running on my own, I'm going to the people on my own").
Rachel (10:35:01 PM): Biden: MoveOn.org - good or EVIL????
Rachel (10:35:06 PM): Biden: Not evil. Next!
Rachel (10:35:24 PM): Russert to Kucinich: Look! I read Greenspan's book — the whole thing, not just the press release!
Glynnis (10:36:05 PM): Kucinich calls out Russert for something that Bush said on MTP and has exact date and time.
Glynnis (10:36:28 PM): One hour and thirty six minutes in, the audience is warming up...thanks mostly to Kucinich.
Rachel (10:37:15 PM): Russert to Dodd: Temporary ban on toys from China?
Rachel (10:37:45 PM): "We would shut down a company in 20 minutes that was using lead paint..." well, that is certainly true.
Rachel (10:38:14 PM): 30 seconds, as it turns out, is plenty for giving a cogent answer.
Rachel (10:38:30 PM): Russert to Obama: Should you have gone to Jena BECAUSE YOU'RE BLACK?
Rachel (10:38:54 PM): Obama: No, I was in Washington trying to end the war in Iraq, with other people who didn't go to Jena. So, bite me.
Rachel (10:39:11 PM): Richardson looks confused that he's the honorary chair of the Boy Scouts.
Rachel (10:39:30 PM): He is just getting those sexual orientation questions. No getting away from that, Bill.
Rachel (10:39:53 PM): Questions about sexual orientation wanna come over! To hell with the consequence!
Glynnis (10:44:57 PM): Russert's hypothetical question is very 24. if there is a dirty bomb and one person knows the whereabouts, is torture allowed?
Rachel (10:45:00 PM): Oh! Shades of Brit Hume.
Glynnis (10:45:03 PM): Obama says no.
Glynnis (10:45:12 PM): Biden says NO. Ever.
Glynnis (10:45:40 PM): Clinton says it cannot be a matter of policy..
Glynnis (10:46:11 PM): this question feels so hypothetical...somebody should say: just send Jack Bauer.
Rachel (10:46:38 PM): Oh! Russert to Hillary: Your husband disagrees with you.
Rachel (10:46:49 PM): Hillary: Well, he's not standing here right now.
Glynnis (10:46:56 PM): Good for her!!
Glynnis (10:47:27 PM): He set that up for her perfectly. We'll be hearing that a lot tomorrow I bet.
Rachel (10:50:22 PM): "The idea that the US would hold anyone without a right to a hearing undermines everything we stand for." Nice, Edwards!
Rachel (10:50:32 PM): If that answer was good lovin', it would have popped my rib.
Glynnis (10:50:25 PM): Edwards furthers by saying that he will close Guantanamo.
Rachel (10:54:02 PM): Oh! Russert is going after Edwards for the hedge fund thing, for being wealthy, for $400 haircuts.
Glynnis (10:54:27 PM): Edwards is saying he's proud of how he's spent his life. He points out that he came from nothing. Which, upon consideration, I think applies to everyone on stage, actually.
Glynnis (10:55:44 PM): Edwards is not backing down on Russert suggesting he should have given back some money...and he is fiery!
Rachel (10:56:02 PM): He gives the kind of answer that ought to merit applause — passionate, resolute, fiery, sincere, justifiably self-righteous. Alas, this dead crowd does not oblige. It feels like they just missed their cue.
Glynnis (10:56:21 PM): Russert now wants to know what is the candidate's favorite Bible verse. The first one that jumps to my mine is, do not throw your pearls to swine...
Glynnis (10:56:28 PM): Obama: Sermon on the Mount
Glynnis (10:56:37 PM): Hillary: The Golden Rule
Glynnis (10:56:52 PM): Gravel: Hmmm, he says love, not actually bible verse
Glynnis (10:57:14 PM): Kucinich: Quotes St. Francis of Assisi - also not actually in the bible
Rachel (10:57:32 PM): Richardson: Sermon on the mount - copy cat!
Glynnis (10:57:35 PM): The last person is totally screwed!
Rachel (10:57:39 PM): "Umm....Genesis 38:10?"
Glynnis (10:57:53 PM): Biden is worried about the Pharisees (read: Cheney)
Rachel (11:00:11 PM): Baseball! Sox or Yankees? Sheesh.
Rachel (11:00:27 PM): Russert wants to use up all of Gravel's time bantering with Hillary about the Cubs. So uncool to cut him off that way.
Glynnis (11:00:46 PM): Oke - it's done. And fast it felt.
Glynnis (11:01:55 PM): Russert did good. Looking a bit under the weather, but if he was this assertive each Sunday on MTP I would have a whole new respect for Sunday mornings!
Glynnis (11:04:13 PM): Overall - Hillary looked the frontrunner she is. She was steady and strong and certainly not backing down in the [large] face of Russert's fairly consistent badgering.
Rachel (11:04:27 PM): Agreed. Poised and prepared as per usual. Overall it felt like everyone's game was raised, but again, no one stood out. Except Biden, actually. He was on it today. And Dodd came across well, too.
Glynnis (11:05:35 PM): Otherwise, I think Edwards owned his part of the debate. He was forceful and clear in the time he was given, without ever letting things get at all nasty. I think this was a real break out for him. Obama, however, felt a bit faded.
Rachel (11:07:20 PM): Of the Big Three - Clinton, Edwards, Obama - there was not much needle-moving. Edwards did attempt to break out front by breaking with Clinton, but with so many candidates it's just hard to carve out a position. The person who will be remembered for challenging Hillary here was Mike Gravel.
Glynnis (11:08:13 PM): Biden [sigh] was good and sharp and strong and continually cut to the chase.
Rachel (11:08:22 PM): Folks at home, Glynnis may have a soft spot for Biden. Disclosure.
Glynnis (11:09:06 PM): But back to Obama. He wasn't weak, per se, but he didn't stand out, and right now that is arguably worse.All in all, a strong, serious re-launch to the political season. If this was the first time some people were seeing the candidates (is that possible?) Edwards and Clinton certainly gave a good introduction.
Glynnis (11:14:40 PM): Catching glimpses of the after show a la Chris Matthews, it's clear he also has a sigh on Biden and, wow, the pundits are out for some Hillary, gloves off, blood!
Glynnis (11:16:57 PM): Case in point: Chris Matthews wants to know if Dodd finds it difficult to debate a woman. (Answer: NO)
Rachel (11:17:17 PM): Unreal!!! And the way he said it, too. The question just kind of burst out of him, like he just had to ask. He still needs to ask such a thing?
Glynnis (11:17:47 PM): Hmmm was that the weaker version of "black restaurants are clean?"
Glynnis (11:19:15 PM): Starting to sense that Chris Matthews doesn't waste any sighs over Hillary. This after show might actually be a preview of what the Clinton campaign can expect for the next three and a half months.
Rachel (11:24:02 PM): No kidding. Wow.
Glynnis (11:24:44 PM): Though if one were to judge solely by this aftershow, joined now by Russert, this wasn't actually a debate but a one-woman Hillary routine. Or the "Veronica and Betty Show" — Hillary's attempt to have something both ways, as Matthews keeps pointing out. We can't quite figure out what he means. As a blonde? As a brunette?
Rachel (11:24:02 PM): Archie was a total flip-flopper. Okay - this Veronica and Betty show is over. Thanks for reading, all, we're going to meet Archie, Reggie, Jughead and the gang for a soda. Oh! Speaking of Jughead, we totally dropped the ball on making Tim Russert Giant Head jokes. Sorry 'bout that, but whatever. It's not like someone could exactly miss it. Goodnight!