Democratic Debate not likely to be decisive

Rick Moran
Barack Obama and Hillary will square off for what will probably be the last debate of the campaign tonight in Pennsylvania. It will be broadcast from 8:00 - 10:00 PM Eastern time on ABC.

A debate this late in the campaign is more full of traps than opportunities. Both candidates are well aware that a gaffe at this stage would be very difficult to overcome. That's why they are not going to say anything that will offend anyone.

But several interesting scenarios regarding Barack Obama are emerging that may make this a very uncomfortable evening:

The campaign has taken several twists and turns since March 4, when Clinton won Ohio, Rhode Island and the Texas popular vote, and Obama won Vermont. And Wednesday’s debate may keep the focus on some of themes that have dominated the campaign storyline over that six-week period– Obama’s small-town remarks and his former pastor; Clinton’s debunked Bosnia story –rather than on major policy differences, which have minimized over the course of the primary season.

Obama was holed up Tuesday night in his Philadelphia hotel, prepping for the debate. Aides said the Illinois senator will continue to defend the gist of his remarks by arguing that it is his rivals who are out of touch.

His wife, Michelle, joined his defense at a stop Tuesday in suburban Philadelphia, offering details of their modest upbringings as a way to deflate the charges of elitism. “There’s a lot of people talking about elitism and all of that,” Michelle Obama told a gathering at Haverford College. “So let me tell you who Barack and I are, so you are not confused. Yeah, I went to Princeton and Harvard, but the lens through which I see the world is the lens I grew up with. I am the product of a middle class upbringing, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, in a working class community.”

Clinton must strike the right balance between challenging Obama on his “bitter” remarks and eliciting groans from the audience with her criticism, as she did Monday during an event in Pittsburgh – an awkward moment that now opens Obama’s latest Pennsylvania TV ad.
Obama's staff, no doubt, is grilling him on how to answer the charge that he is an elitist because of his remarks in San Francisco. Rather than telling him what to say, they are probably telling him what he shouldn't say - to avoid certain words and phrases that would only make the situation worse.

Hillary will have an easier time dismissing questions about landing under fire in Bosnia. She will make some joke about her memory and that will probably suffice.

The real question is how rough the press will get. Questions will come from George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson. The latter is probably more likely to ask tough questions of Obama because Stephanopolous, who once worked for the Clintons, will not want to be seen playing favorites.

Will Obama make the problem worse? Some analysts believe every time he opens his mouth on the issue, it is dangerous to him. Indeed, he runs the risk of misstating his case again. But I don't think he'll have much trouble because the moderators simply won't go there the way they should.

The Pennsylvania primary is April 22.
Barack Obama and Hillary will square off for what will probably be the last debate of the campaign tonight in Pennsylvania. It will be broadcast from 8:00 - 10:00 PM Eastern time on ABC.

A debate this late in the campaign is more full of traps than opportunities. Both candidates are well aware that a gaffe at this stage would be very difficult to overcome. That's why they are not going to say anything that will offend anyone.

But several interesting scenarios regarding Barack Obama are emerging that may make this a very uncomfortable evening:

The campaign has taken several twists and turns since March 4, when Clinton won Ohio, Rhode Island and the Texas popular vote, and Obama won Vermont. And Wednesday’s debate may keep the focus on some of themes that have dominated the campaign storyline over that six-week period– Obama’s small-town remarks and his former pastor; Clinton’s debunked Bosnia story –rather than on major policy differences, which have minimized over the course of the primary season.

Obama was holed up Tuesday night in his Philadelphia hotel, prepping for the debate. Aides said the Illinois senator will continue to defend the gist of his remarks by arguing that it is his rivals who are out of touch.

His wife, Michelle, joined his defense at a stop Tuesday in suburban Philadelphia, offering details of their modest upbringings as a way to deflate the charges of elitism. “There’s a lot of people talking about elitism and all of that,” Michelle Obama told a gathering at Haverford College. “So let me tell you who Barack and I are, so you are not confused. Yeah, I went to Princeton and Harvard, but the lens through which I see the world is the lens I grew up with. I am the product of a middle class upbringing, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, in a working class community.”

Clinton must strike the right balance between challenging Obama on his “bitter” remarks and eliciting groans from the audience with her criticism, as she did Monday during an event in Pittsburgh – an awkward moment that now opens Obama’s latest Pennsylvania TV ad.
Obama's staff, no doubt, is grilling him on how to answer the charge that he is an elitist because of his remarks in San Francisco. Rather than telling him what to say, they are probably telling him what he shouldn't say - to avoid certain words and phrases that would only make the situation worse.

Hillary will have an easier time dismissing questions about landing under fire in Bosnia. She will make some joke about her memory and that will probably suffice.

The real question is how rough the press will get. Questions will come from George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson. The latter is probably more likely to ask tough questions of Obama because Stephanopolous, who once worked for the Clintons, will not want to be seen playing favorites.

Will Obama make the problem worse? Some analysts believe every time he opens his mouth on the issue, it is dangerous to him. Indeed, he runs the risk of misstating his case again. But I don't think he'll have much trouble because the moderators simply won't go there the way they should.

The Pennsylvania primary is April 22.