early and often

And the Winner of the Democratic Debate Is …

Obama and Clinton debate

Photo: Getty Images

The pundits seemingly had Hillary Clinton’s plan all mapped out before last night’s debate. She has to go for the jugular, they said. This is one of her last chances to knock Barack Obama down off his pedestal, they claimed. Well, besides her half-hearted, manufactured zinger on Obama’s alleged “plagiarism” (“It’s not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox”), which the audience booed, Clinton took the high road, and even earned a standing ovation for her conciliatory final answer. The pundits, far from feeling upset at having their advice shunned, have largely applauded Clinton — though without, for the most part, granting her the win.

• Marc Ambinder thinks that Clinton’s performance proved she wasn’t willing to tear down Obama to try and save herself. [Atlantic]

• Joe Klein agrees, saying that it only would have hurt Clinton to attack Obama, and that she would rather remember her campaign with pride. [Swampland/Time]

•. Stephen Spruiell writes that Obama was basically running out the clock, while Clinton tried but failed to score points on health care and national security. [National Review]

• Michael Crowley, calling the debate a tie, still gives the advantage to Obama, since maintaining the status quo will only help him cement his frontrunner status. [Stump/New Republic]

• John Dickerson notes that Obama proved he does have detailed policies, which seemed more impressive than it should because his image as a “substance-free orator” lowered the bar. [Slate]

• Walter Shapiro wonders whether Clinton tarnished her best moment by copying a line from John Edwards, something the Obama campaign was quick to point out. [Salon]

• Megan McArdle notes that the line is also very similar to one from Primary Colors. [Atlantic]

• And Josh Marshall digs up the line in an old Bill Clinton speech. [Talking Points Memo]

• Mark Halperin gives Obama a B and Clinton a B in his debate scorecard. [Page/Time]

• Craig Crawford thinks that either Clinton has decided to lose pretty, or that she’s holding something in reserve to use at a different time. [Trail Mix/CQ Politics]

• Ben Smith looks at both Obama and Clinton’s mushy responses to the last question about “being tested” and foresees some trouble for either when they face John McCain, who will certainly have a good answer at the ready. [Politico] —Dan Amira

For a complete guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.

And the Winner of the Democratic Debate Is …