22 February 2008

What that ending was really all about

Sometimes it's best to put a few hours between yourself and an event before deciding just what to make of it.

Such is the case with the final 30 seconds or so of last night's Democratic debate. (This clip is a lot longer than 30 seconds, but you can fast-forward it to get to the relevant part).

Immediately following Hillary Clinton's conciliatory comments at the end of the debate, the talking heads were trying to decide what to make of it.

I happened to be watching MSNBC's coverage, where Keith Olberman seemed to be taking the comments not only as a concession speech by Clinton but also a bid to get her name on the short list of VP candidates.

NBC's Chuck Todd thought the moment was clearly an indication that Clinton realizes she might well lose the nomination but also a moment that might help her bid.

Clinton ended the debate on a VERY conciliatory note and for the first time sounded like a candidate who realized she might not win. It must be an odd position for her but the confidence she exuded for just about the entire debate disappeared there at the end. I wonder if showing some vulnerability might actually help her with some undecided voters.

Some pundits pointed to other seemingly conciliatory signs in the debate, most notably Clinton's answer to the question about superdelegates possibly deciding the nomination. She sidestepped the question and simply said, "we'll have a unified Democratic party" in the fall.

Still there were moments of tension between Clinton and Barack Obama, on healthcare and when Clinton tried (for what we can only hope is the last time) to score points on the plagiarism non-issue, saying Obama stood for "change you can Xerox."

Some of the talking heads on TV decided that Clinton's double-edged approach to the debate was indicative of the major split in her campaign - between those who think going big-time negative is her only hope and those who think such an approach will do more harm than good.

There may be something to that, but it certainly seems odd that the candidate would head out on to the stage for the most important debate of her career with two conflicting strategies.

Here's my guess.

The campaign's hope was Clinton could put Obama on the defensive during the debate - over healthcare or "plagairism" or SOMETHING - or, that he would somehow screw up himself.

I think the campaign felt if that didn't happen, then their only shot to salvage anything out of the evening would be for Clinton to get in the last word with something that would get serious play and win her some empathy, if not sympathy.

Clinton's closing comments - which were clearly hatched prior to their delivery on stage - would serve two purposes: tamp down the criticism that the senator seems to have taken a win-at-all-costs posture and give her plenty of airplay for at least a couple of news cycles.

I think the comments hit the pre-determined bullseye.

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