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Why Barack Won Last Night

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Obviously, I’ve thrown my support behind Obama for the Dems (and McCain for the Repubs), but I haven’t really been impressed with his debate performances before tonight. Because as I was watching the debate last night I saw a different guy on stage. This wasn’t Primary Candidateâ„¢. No, the guy I saw was General Election Candidateâ„¢ and I don’t think we’ll ever see the other guy ever again.

Here’s how he won:

  1. For the first time, and probably due to the one-on-one format, he was able to articulate his stances succinctly. Hillary did too, but this is the first time Democrats have really been able to see Barack in this light and it should give them enough confidence that he can hold his own against a more seasoned opponent.
  2. I think it’s now obvious to all that Hillary’s stance on the war will be a problem when she goes up against the Republican nominee. She says “if I knew then what I know now”, but in the general election that has the effect of saying Bush lied to her. In the primary contest it has the effect of blunting her “experience” message and Barack knows it. So when we look forward to the general election, Hillary’s position simply won’t play and I think Democrats would rather go with somebody who was right, rather than somebody who has figured out what’s right.
  3. Related to the second point, Hillary talked a lot about Bush. Barack talked more about McCain and Romney. As such he offered Democrats a preview of how he’ll be able to make either Republican look like as if he’s just another politician and willing to compromise his values for votes. This will be particularly easy to do with Romney, so I think that’s why Barack focused on McCain tonight. He knows he’ll have to blunt McCain’s experience too, and he’s already ramping up the “politics as usual” message.
  4. Hillary literally can’t attack Barack anymore. She saw what happened when she attacked, he called her on it and she fought back with counterattacks. They drive her numbers down. This trend alone suggests that these types of debates are really his to lose because she has to play nice.

And let me say for the record that it’s not that Hillary did bad. She handled herself very effectively, but she still felt like Primary Candidateâ„¢. Barack was elevated, sort of above it all and he handled himself as such. And perhaps this could well the tipping point for him nationally, like the Jefferson Jackson speech was for Iowa.

I guess we’ll see…