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Analysis of the Democratic Debate in Austin, Texas

Aired February 21, 2008 - 21:40   ET


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson Cooper now and the best team in television with debate analysis -- Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there they are, Senators Obama and Clinton greeting their families and their supporters. Soon, they'll be making their way through the crowd in Austin after perhaps the most crucial debate of their incredibly close campaign.

Close certainly describes the race for the state of Texas. New polling tonight shows it's a statistical dead heat. In case you missed some of the debate, over the next hour we're going to bring you the most important exchanges, crucial moments. We'll also get minute by minute reaction, dial-testing from undecided Texans, and, of course, analysis from our political team.

And there on the stage we see Chelsea Clinton, who warmly greeted her mother after the debates. Senator Hillary Clinton signing -- autographs, greeting well-wishers. Senator Barack Obama doing the same. The debate at times -- at times, for a few moments, contentious, but overall, civil. Focusing on policy, on issues, questioners often trying to get a sense of the differences between these two candidates, slim though they may be.

We have a lot to talk about over the next hour and 15 minutes of our coverage. And as we said, if you missed moments of the debate, or missed parts of the debate, we're going to be showing you really the most crucial exchanges, extended exchanges, not little just 20-second sound bites. We really want to give you a sense of the content of what was said in the most significant moments in the debate which began at -- around 8:00 p.m. East coast time, lasting some hour and 40 minutes, or so, including commercial breaks.

Let's get a quick recap right now from CNN's Candy Crowley who is in the hall in Austin -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, I think a couple of things were really interesting, knowing what these candidates wanted to do going in. What the Clinton campaign wanted their candidate to do was find a way to connect with voters, find a way that she should chip into the excitement and the connection that Barack Obama makes, and seems to make, with the voters. I thought her best moment was probably that final question: Where in your life have you been most tested?

And she said, I think everybody pretty much knows that I've been tested, but it's nothing compared to what I see every day, what's going on out there. She talked about soldiers who had lost limbs, she talked about families that she's met who are about to lose their home, that kind of thing. So I think that she made -- and I'll be interested to see the dial-testing because I think that was a good moment for her.

I think for Barack Obama probably the best moment was when he said, you know, somehow everybody thinks that because people are coming to rallies and coming to see me, they must all be delusional because there's nothing to me. And all of these papers that are endorsing me, that somehow that's delusional. He said, the fact is, we have to give people hope, we have to bring people together.

Thought her worst moment, probably, was when she said that crack about -- when they were talking about his borrowing words from a friend, in fact, Deval Patrick, who is the governor of Massachusetts. She said, well, that's not change we can believe in, that's Xerox. She got booed for that. So -- that was an interesting moment, but one that didn't quite work for her.

Substantively, I think probably the Cuba exchange was the one with the meat in it. Now, they went over old territory, that is, that he has always said that he would be willing to sit down with our enemies. She has always said, look, there has to be lots and lots of diplomatic work before I would ever do that. The changeover in the regime in Cuba, or what we believe will be a changeover, at least the exit of Fidel Castro, brought them around to that argument.

Again, he stuck with it saying I'd have to have an agenda, but, yes, I would sit down with the successor to Fidel Castro. So I think substantively, that's where the news was.

And I think that the rest of it was their trying to get across their ideas and, again, trying to do that connection. I thought, in fact, Barack Obama probably gave us his best performance tonight. That format seems to suit him when they're sitting down. But she as always was great. How -- what effect will this all have? If it's even -- if what she wanted to do was trip him up tonight, didn't seem like he did it. Again, though, a very strong performance I thought from both of them, Anderson.

COOPER: A question of expectation going in to it, what each candidate needed to do. Candy gave the recap. We'll be showing you all of those moments that Candy talked about over the next hour and 10 minutes of our coverage.

Let's get some other quick takes from our political panel. one of the members will be happy to hear me compare them to the 1927 Yankees. The heavy hitters include CNN's senior analyst, Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin and David Gergen. Joined as well by CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, who we should also note happens to be a superdelegate.

Good to see you all tonight.

David Gergen, your take?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought it was a very even performance by both of them. What was interesting about Barack Obama when you go back to the first debate in this series, in New Hampshire, she just clobbered him. He was very tentative. And how much he's changed and improved over time. He's confident tonight, self effacing. I thought he was very, very effective.

I didn't not think she was landing many blows against him, until the very last moment. And that last statement by her was the most effective moment she's had on television, I believe, since the New Hampshire primary, since that crying moment. And people got up to cheer and stood up to cheer in that hall. That had a lot to do with the effectiveness of her closing statement. It almost sounded like a valedictory at first, and then she turned it and made it very, very effective. So, I thought that she really scored on that.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, as Candy just mentioned, the candidates were asked if they would meet with Fidel Castro and other leaders. If so, under what conditions. Let's listen in.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to be looking for some of those changes. Releasing political prisoners, ending some of the oppressive practices on the press, opening up the economy. Of course, the United States stands ready. And as president, I would be ready to reach out and work with a new Cuban government, once it demonstrated that it truly was going to change that direction.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would meet, without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It's very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda, and on that agenda was human rights, releasing the political prisoners, opening up to press. And that preparation might take some time. But I do think that it's important for the United States, not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies.


COOPER: This hearkens back to the question that CNN/YouTube Democratic debate where Obama was criticized for saying -- basically just that.

How did you think he did tonight?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he's developed a more nuanced position, as we say. He's -- evolved. He now believes that there have to be certain kinds of preconceived conditions, or as he calls them, preparations Anderson. And so I think he's essentially moved a little bit towards the middle on Hillary Clinton on this.

But I think what we saw tonight, overall, were two candidate who don't have very many differences. We've seen this in debate after debate after debate. They've got their differences with the Republican party and their differences tonight, this huge argument, Anderson, over healthcare in which they really don't have a major difference.

So what the voters in Texas and Ohio are going to be looking at is who these people are. And I agree with David Gergen. In Hillary Clinton's last answer, I think we saw more of who she really is than we have since New Hampshire.

COOPER: We're looking at live pictures. Again, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, still on the stage in Austin, Texas, greeting their well-wishers.

Jeffrey Toobin, Obama had to deflect criticism, this week, for allegations that he lifted chunks of his speech from Deval Patrick. He was asked about, Senator Clinton was asked about. I want to play that for our viewers, as well.


OBAMA: The notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who is one of my national co-chairs, who gave me the line and suggested that I use it, I think is silly. And -- you know, but this is where we start getting into silly season in politics. And I think people start getting discouraged about it. They don't want --

H. CLINTON: If your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That's, I think, a very simple proposition. And, you know -- you know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox, and I just don't think --


COOPER: A clever line, I wonder who gave her that line.

Jeffrey Toobin, how do you think it played in the hall?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It bombed. I think they'll be two moments that people are going to talk about from this debate. One is that line, the change you can Xerox. You can tell even when she said it, she kind of regretted saying it. That it just -- it wasn't very funny. And it was -- it didn't come across very well.

But just to -- Gloria and David both talked about that last comment that Hillary Clinton made about, you know, that really wonderful, evocative painful image of the soldiers coming in for the opening of that hospital. I actually had a somewhat different reaction, though, to it. I thought it did sound valedictory. It did sound like she is recognizing that this campaign is not going well, but she's going to leave it on the high ground, not the low ground. I felt it was towards the end of the campaign, not the beginning.

COOPER: Donna Brazile, as you watched tonight, what thoughts do you have?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, I think the audience was clearly the winner. They were fired up. And, as a result of it, what you saw tonight, especially in the first 45 minutes, was that both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama tried to talk about the things that they shared in common. So they -- it was a little bit of hugging at first.

And then, of course, the tone changed when the questions became very pointed. Look, she scored on many issues. She scored on Cuba, she perhaps scored better on healthcare. But he is connecting better. He is able to draw the crowds, the audience, to him with substance, as well as his style.

So, while I didn't hear a lot of fireworks, what I did see tonight was these two candidates reaching out to the people that they've already reached. But they didn't reach into each other's camp and pull anyone toward them.

COOPER: So in a debate, Donna Brazile, in which many people said Senator Clinton had to knock it out of the park or Barack Obama had to stumble, you saw neither?

BRAZILE: I didn't see that, no. I think Senator Clinton wanted to, because you heard her coming back again and again on healthcare, coming back again and again on her experience of being ready. But Senator Obama seemed to have this frame that, you know, that's old stuff.

That's not how we bring the country together. That's not how we create the change that we want to see to help the family struggling with paying their mortgages. So, on that note, I think they scored points to bring their people into their corner, but not to bring someone else with them.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, do you believe this changes -- we're going to looking at dial-testing in this next hour. Do you think this changes the dial?

BORGER: I don't think it really does changes the dial. They really -- the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton had to try and kind of exploit her differences with Barack Obama. She tried to do that on healthcare. I think she did it to a certain degree. But I think tonight, you saw Barack Obama as a very credible commander in chief.

It's the first debate I can really recall where he really seemed to fit into that role very, very easily. And, I think that's going to be important. But will it -- will it turn the dial substantially one way or the other? Was anything new raised this evening, Anderson, that we haven't already heard before? I don't really think so.

TOOBIN: And there's a pattern at play in this campaign where Obama starts out in all of these states substantially behind and then blows right past her. And --

COOPER: And we're seeing new polling with the statistical heat -- that heat in Texas?

TOOBIN: In states where he was way behind, in Texas and Ohio. So, if the pattern holds, she's in desperate trouble in these two states which -- her candidacy ends if she didn't win. So, I think given those patterns, the fact that there was not a dramatic change in this debate is very good news for Obama.

COOPER: David Gergen, do you agree that it all boils down now to March 4th, to what happens in the state of Texas, in the state of Ohio?

GERGEN: Yes, I do. And I think that Jeffrey Toobin is absolutely right. He --

COOPER: And by the way, it seemed like Hillary Clinton seem to the say that tonight, as well. Basically saying it's not going to be a matter of superdelegates.

GERGEN: Right, I agree with that, too. And he has the momentum. What I thought tonight was that she -- I don't think she stopped his momentum tonight. I did not think she came out with a real message. She just trotted out old themes, like experience. And -- which has not worked. Getting into that healthcare debate, she may have scored a couple of debating points, but the fact was, it was a little hectoring.

And I think people -- we've heard all of this before and it's not working for her. So except for that last moment, and there was one other moment, I thought she stumbled into what could be a potential theme for her, but she's not using.

And that is, she's a fighter. And that -- on healthcare, she's willing to go for universal because she's going to fight and she's not quite sure he has the courage or the kind of fighting instinct. And that actually might work for her. It's got something to do about action, as opposed to just experience, which is such a leaden kind of approach, it doesn't really get anybody excited. I --

COOPER: And the clock is ticking, of course.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

COOPER: One week to go before the March 4th primary in Texas and Ohio. We're going to have more with our panel to come. Up next, we're going to be joined by the people asking the questions tonight, Campbell Brown and John King, get their take on some of the answers.

You're watching a "360" special coverage, the CNN/Univision debate in Austin, Texas. We'll be right back.