All the action came early
Wrapping up the debate...
This debate never got any better than its first 15 minutes, when we had our Obama-Clinton showdown and then our Edwards-Clinton flap. In the minute we've had to ponder it, I don't see any clear winners or losers from the night. David Gergen noted that the audience booed when Obama and Edwards attacked Clinton. True. But that was one heck of a participatory audience in general.
* Clinton had a much stronger performance than last time and gave a graceful answer to the gender question, but also had some tough moments, a la on Iran. And diamonds or pearls - fun. That laugh sounded genuine and she really poked fun at herself.
* Obama had some memorable lines and showed real passion in talking law. When Clinton took it to health care early, he was unfazed and answered fluidly. But Obama also had a couple flubs, including his slow answer on driver's licenses.
* Edwards continues to be a natural debater, but the thing that sticks in my mind was the question about his own shifts since his 2004 campaign.
* Richardson, two things: "Give peace a chance" and human rights sometimes over American interests. The peacenik lingo does not seem natural from a guy who always bills himself a moderate governor.
* Dodd got to bust out his Spanish and showed one heck of an accent.
* Biden talked up his legislative history and doings at every turn, from Supreme Court hearings to the Biden plan on Iraq. But can that break through?
* Kucinich: No UFO confessions this time, which has to make his press secretary happy. He got in his chops, representing the left flank in critiquing most everyone else on stage as often as possible.
- Lauren R. Dorgan
UPDATE: Chuck Todd says Clinton showed her experience as a debater and that she and Obama have separated themselves from the field.
The early AP reports begins: "Under pressure in a feisty debate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton accused her closest rivals Thursday night of slinging mud 'right out of the Republican playbook' and leveled her sharpest criticism of the campaign at their records."
The early Washington Post report begins: "Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of being duplicitous in her presidential campaign in one of several sharp exchanges that marked the Democratic debate Thursday night as one of the most heated to date."
The early New York Times report begins: "Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton struck a notably more aggressive posture in the face of attacks from her Democratic rivals at a debate last night, challenging their positions on issues like health care and warning former Senator John Edwards in particular against 'throwing mud.' "
Jim Geraghty says Clinton "went into fired-up shouting-over-applause mode, and I think it might have been the ugly moment her opponents were waiting for." But, he says, she won by default.
WMUR is leading its 11 p.m. newscast with the weather forecast -- snow just in time for Bill Clinton and John McCain to campaign up north Friday. When the highlights roll, the recap includes a barb each from Obama and Edwards and Clinton's mud-from-the-Republican-playbook response.
CNN is compiling the best zingers from all the year's debates here.