I always try to watch debates by erasing all of my prior information, just like a "virgin" voter, seeing the candidates for the first time. And with such a mindset, I have to say I was proud to be a Democrat last night! There were three formidable people up on the stage, obviously intelligent, thoughtful, capable and passionate.
It was easy to like Hillary while she was talking, and Barack when he was talking, and John when he was talking. They also seemed completely equal - there was no sense of the media-driven "two-person" race on that stage last night - it was unquestionably a three-person race although Obama had 12 minutes more of face-time than Edwards (with Clinton in-between).
So, if you are older, and you like a CEO who can manage stuff and does not scare you with too much novelty (same-old-same-old, but at least familiar stuff, and way better than Bush), you would pick Hillary.
If you are young and uninformed, but wide-eyed and eager to participate in a revolution, and if you fell for the whole "bipartisanship" frame pushed by the media and some groups and wonder "why can't we all just get along", you would pick Barack.
But if you are hurting, and insecure about your job and your future, and if you had your eyes open for the past 7 years and noticed that the people in power are really Bad Guys, not just inept politicians, than the only choice is Edwards.
At one point I thought how great it would be if we could elect all three for President and let them work together - they look like a Dream Team: a motivational speaker, a fighter and a manager. One plays a bad cop, one a good cop and one makes sure that everything remains calm and under control. Together, they could make a lot done to undo the enormous damage of the Gingrich+Bush years and to get us back on track.
They do not differ much on most issues and, since they have all been copy-catting Edwards' ideas for the past year, they are getting less and less different as the time goes on. Even if he does not win, Edwards has completely designed and defined the Democratic platform for the next four years. The bloggers know all the details of their votes and how much each one of them glossed over the details of their past, but the regular low-information voter will find it hard to see how they differ on issues. But they obviously differ in governing philosophy and style.
On economy, Clinton talked about programs, Edwards talked about people, and Obama projected optimism. Different strokes for different folks, I guess, and each of the three approaches will appeal to someone.
On the question of Yucca Mountain, Clinton was matter of fact. Edwards said that he changed his mind when new scientific information became available (nice touch for the reality-based community!). But Obama used the conservative frame "sound science"!!!! WTF! This is like the hundredth time he used a conservative frame during this campaign - did nobody tell him that there are two variants of English language: one in the dictionaries and another one in the literature coming out of conservative "think" tanks (and rightwing church pamphlets)? This is a typical Luntzism, one of millions of Republican Orwellianisms in which black is white, and the sky is pink. Tobacco industry, polluters and others use the term to denote Bad Science that makes the point the industry likes. If they do not like what science says, they always try to postpone action with an excuse that there is not enough "sound science" there and that "more research needs to be done". When they fund and conduct their own "research" and come up with an industry-friendly conclusion that goes against thousands of studies by legitimate scientists, they call that crap, you guessed it: "sound science"!
But, the loser last night was Subprime Media (TM), especially that symbol of big-headed, big-walletted, big-egoed buffoonery, Tim Russert. My wife and I were watching together last night and counting the minutes it took them to move on to the issues - 40 minutes! Those minutes were wasted on idiotic questions about the horserace, and futile attempts at race-bating, and gender-bating, and generally stupid and useless drivel by the moderators.
Fortunately, the candidates did not bite the bait at all and managed to foil and thwart every Tim's attempt to draw the discussion into the gutter. As a result (and especially as a result of the chance for candidates to ask each other questions - the best questions ever asked in a TV debate), this was the best debate so far. This was the first time we could actually hear details and nuance and fine distinctions between the candidates, something impossible to do in a GOP debate, as there are no fine distinctions between slogans.
With the two recent Nevada polls showing all three candidates essentially tied, and this debate probably making them come even closer, this is going to be an exciting caucus to watch. For a different reason than watching the Republican primaries, which is more like watching the clown car (TM) at the Circus.