Dems go at it in first debate ...

Editor's note: This is a guest post from Steve Benen, author of the Carpetbagger Report.

Round One

Going into a presidential debate, even an early one with eight candidates each struggling to distinguish themselves from their rivals, there’s a temptation to think there will be a “winner.” Someone, at some point, is going to deliver a blow or share an insight that will be so impressive, he or she will rise above the field. It’s a fool’s errand, though, waiting for someone to say, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

With that in mind, last night’s Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina was relatively entertaining political theater, but little more. It seems safe to assume that the race for the nomination has not substantively changed at all — all of the candidates are pretty much where they were this time yesterday.

Indeed, if we stick with a boxing metaphor, the major candidates seemed to realize that it was far too early to throw any roundhouse punches, so they didn’t. Indeed, there were two sentences that stood out for me, not for their substance, but for their collegiality.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think what Barack said is right. I mean part of our challenge is to put together the political support throughout the country, particularly within the Republican party, to join with us to bring an end to this war….
SEN. OBAMA: Hillary mentioned earlier, this is going to be a change election; people are hungry for change. And the question is, who is going to be the most effective agent for change?
This was effectively the pugilists taking off their gloves and showing their top rival some respect. When it’s April, the top two candidates can afford to do this. It doesn’t make for intense drama, but neither of them actually want that anyway at this point.

Here are my synopses for each of the candidates (in alphabetical order):

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