Debate and De Primary Livebloggin'

7:37pm: Sorry for the later-than-usual start, polls in Michigan close in about twenty minutes, which is the same time the Democratic debate starts. What a confluence of events.

7:41pm: Coverage on the cable networks has kind of started; Lou Dobbs is still talking about the American Dream "spiritually, physically and materially"... MSNBC has Keith doing his normal Countdown as they prepare to host the debate in a little bit, Fox has their election ticker up and it looks like only about three percent of precincts are in.

7:43pm: Fox News has a segment on what the blogs are saying, and they've called this "Blogitics"... I am guessing this is a made up word.

7:45pm: Curious which "brand" is selling better this political season: MSNBC's "The Place for Politics" or CNN's "The Best Political Team on Television".

7:49pm: Norah O'Donnell is again analyzing exit polls for The Place for Politics. She wore a purple velvet jacket for the NH primaries, tonight it's black leather.

FUN FACT: Norah O'Donnell recently gave birth to twins.

7:51pm: The big development from the exit polls shows very little D to R crossover voting, and fewer independents participating in the Republican primary than expected.

7:55pm: So far in Michigan, Mike Huckabee "hasn't done so hot," according to Brit Hume. He's in third place there. Huckabee is already in Columbia, South Carolina tonight, campaigning there as we get closer to the January 19th SC Republican primary.

7:59pm:Meanwhile in Las Vegas, the "big three" Democratic candidates have taken the stage.

8:01pm: Early returns in Michigan look good for Mitt Romney. Romney 38, McCain 31, Huckabee 16 with 8% of precincts reporting

8:03pm: Over on CNN, Wolf Blitzer is standing in the "CNN ELECTION SITUATION ROOM" (It's not really called that but I'm going to call it that). We're back to the massive pie charts on the screens tonight.

Oooohh, just in time for a PROJECTION (cue projection music). CNN can project Mitt Romney will win the Michigan primary.

FUN FACT: Michigan has the longest shoreline of any state except Alaska.

8:06pm: Our debate hosts tonight will be Brian Williams and Tim Russert, and Natalie Morales will be taking/asking questions from the audience. More projections for Mitt Romney, and more projection music.

8:08pm: Race is a question right out of the gate. Clinton takes it and is calling for joining together and singing kumbayah. Says it's because of the women's, civil rights and human rights movements that they are all there tonight. "We're all family in the Democratic party," Clinton says.

8:09pm: "I think Hillary said it well," Obama says in response. She's nodding. What is going on here? Are they gonna make out?

8:11pm: Timing worked out perfectly tonight. The Romney win was projected just in time to quit watching other networks cover the returns and focus solely on the Democratic debate.

8:13pm: Obama's debate performances have never been super-strong; so far he's on message but seems to be giving a flat delivery.

8:16pm: Clinton also not freaking out or anything. This is like a quiet dinner table discussion so far.

8:18pm: Now we go to a viewer question, read by Natalie Morales. Voter asks what a white male is to do when running against a woman candidate, and a black candidate.
Edwards takes it, of course, and says that Americans will make decisions on who people are and what they stand for and what they fight for; not specifically because of race or gender.

More liveblogging after the jump.http://www.slate.com

8:21pm: Obama is asked whether his comment in the New Hampshire debate in which he says "you're likable enough" is regrettable. Obama says of course he regrets it, he intended to say Clinton was "plenty likable" and the comment was over analyzed. "We're focusing on the wrong thing," Obama says.

8:23pm: This debate is so inside baseball. They have yet to talk about any issues that might be important to a "regular person". Instead, we're parsing previous campaign jabs or things said in previous debates or what kind of things their campaign staffers have done within the last week...

8:24pm: A HECKLER! The first exciting thing to happen in this debate all night. I think the hecker says "These are all race-based questions, race-based..."

8:25pm: Clinton back to her "Who is ready on day one" message. She's woken up a little. The volume is rising, the eyes are starting to pop out of her head a little.

8:26pm: Okay now she's yelling.

8:27pm: Let's start counting how many times Clinton says "35 years". One.

FUN FACT: Where does the "35 years" figure come from? "The experience clock for Sen. Clinton, according to her public statements, started in 1972 as a private attorney in Arkansas for Marian Wright Edelman, who subsequently founded the Children’s Defense Fund," says The Hill.http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/2007/10/hillary_clintons_35_years_of_experience/

8:31pm: Let's check back with CNN, where Larry "Never-a-bad-movie-review" King is hosting the coverage of the returns. It looks like the punditry is saying what hurts McCain is that he had the "wrong" base in a Republican primary. McCain traditionally does well with Independents and Democrats, but as we've seen in Michigan, not so well with die hard Republicans.

8:33pm: Back at the debate, Clinton is now taking on Bush, and the failures of the administration. The failures after Katrina, no-bid contracts and cronyism in Iraq. Obama then chimes in, saying that Bush couldn't deal with anybody who disagreed with him.

8:35pm: I feel validated about my point at 8:23pm tonight. Says Rick Klein at ABC News: "OK, I'm a politics guy -- but even I'm missing the substance. This debate is on the news, yes, and that's great -- but what about Iraq, or healthcare? So far, this debate is all about leadership qualities, politics of race, and other intangibles."


8:36pm: Oh, here's an interesting question. Obama is addressing a bunch of false emails going around about him that said he's a Muslim or that he took the oath of office on the Koran, etc etc.

"Fortunately, I think the American people are smarter than people give them credit for," Obama said. "My job is to tell the truth, to be straight with the American people... they will sort out the lies and the truth and make a good decision."

8:41pm: I missed the Romney victory speech, but from what I've heard about it, it sounds like he dissed the Bush administration too.

FUN FACT: Texas Congressman Ron Paul is finishing ahead of former US Senator Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani in Michigan.

8:44pm: The Clinton volume is high again. We're now talking about the economy, how foreign companies are keeping American banks afloat. This issue dovetails right into Edwards' point about the income gap and the wealth of multi-national corporations.

8:48pm: Obama addresses economic problems by talking about more accountability and regulatory oversight over financial markets.

8:50pm: Is anyone having fun watching this debate? There's not a lot of actual debating in this debate; rather, just each candidate getting a turn to discuss his/her particular positions. BORING.

8:52pm: Clinton is yelling again, but it's effective this time, because she sounds OUTRAGED about the mortgage crisis. She also uses this opportunity to pander to Blacks and Hispanics, as they are disproportionately feeling the pain from this crisis. She talks about how "WE NEED TO BE ACTING NOW."

8:54pm: Obama never yells. But consequently, he sounds less URGENT about ACTING NOW.

9:00pm: I'm starting to space out. This is what I'm hearing right now: "Rate freezes... energy bills... unemployment compensation system... five billion dollars...tax rebates for working families."

Questions from the candidates for the candidates time!!!

From Edwards to Obama: Why do you think the big donors give their money? Is it just for good government? Is it pay to play?

Obama: "First of all I dont take money from federal lobbyists or PACs," he says. He then uses this to talk about how he'd like to see public financing of campaigns. In the meantime, he says he's proud of making progress in pushing back lobbyist influence.

From Clinton to Obama: Bush has continued to say that he can enter into an agreement with the Iraqi government without approval of Congress to keep troops in Iraq. Clinton has sponsored a bill that would reign in Bush. She asks Obama if she will co-sponsor the bill?

"I think we can work on this, Hillary," Obama said. Now he uses the answer to talk about his war position.

9:08pm: Russert then says that the three candidates did not pledge to have all troops out of Iraq by 2013, and is now hearing something else? Obama says he didn't pledge to have ALL troops out so that he could maintain some troop presence to protect embassies, etc.

"I think what Barack said is why John and I didn't pledge, too," Clinton said.

"It is dishonest to say that you're not gonna have troops there to protect the embassy," Edwards said.

9:14pm: Fred Thompson, who has yet to finish above fourth in these early primaries, is in Clinton, South Carolina. "Here, I'm gaining, the others are losing, it's all about momentum," Fred Thompson says in a live interview on Fox right now. Is momentum really in Thompson's favor?

FUN FACT: The people in SC insist Clinton, SC is pronounced "Clennan".

9:18pm: We're talking about federal requirements for colleges and universities to have ROTC programs. Will the Senators vigorously cut off federal funding to schools that don't have a ROTC program? All three say yes.

FUN FACT: General Colin Powell was the first ROTC graduate named Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was a graduate of the City College of New York.

9:25pm: The debate turns to a local issue, Yucca Mountain, the site of a proposed nuclear waste depository. All three say they want to end this project because of "new science" and "forged documents" that reveal it's a bad idea.

9:30pm: Now we're talking about clean energy. Clinton can speak easily about these topics with breadth and depth, revealing her true wonkiness at each turn. She takes on the oil and gas lobby, saying that they "wrote" the 2005 energy bill that expanded the growth of nuclear power plants.

9:33pm: Edwards pops Clinton saying she takes the most campaign contributions from oil and gas special interests.

9:35pm: 180! Now we're talking about what would be wrong making English the official language.

9:36pm: Clinton gets a question about her staffer telling the New Yorker that "traditionally, Latino voters don't support Black candidates"... Clinton said he was only speaking historically.

9:37pm: Obama scores a nice line when asked whether HE believed Latinos are reluctant to vote for blacks. "Not in Illinois," he said. "They all voted for me."

9:40pm: Obama gets a chance to address the disproportionate number of young African American males dropping out of school. He speaks about this issue with substance and range; discussing the importance of families, getting the youngest children off on the right foot with early childhood education, and even bringing in the fact that his personal experience, that he "grew up without a father" so he thinks keeping fathers involved is critical.

9:43pm: As I continue watching this super civilized debate, the big story emerging from this evening is just how much a free-for-all the GOP race has become. Slate says: At this rate Thompson will win South Carolina and Giuliani Florida. The GOP primary is starting to look like a Pee Wee soccer tournament: Everyone gets a trophy!

9:53pm: Clinton is talking about uniting the country and the world; has she stolen Obama's message?

10:00pm: After three closing arguments about when/why they decided to run for president, Brian Williams signs off. Whew.

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