Friday, February 22, 2008

Lone Star State listens to Dems debate

By Carol Gee

Texans and the nation listened and watched together last night as CNN moderated the latest Democratic presidential debate. People gathered in cities and towns and in the country, watching from TeeVees at the ranch to urban watering holes. Today's post is a digest of Texas opinion about the debate and what it could mean to the March 4 primary outcome.

Texas Democrats seemed very glad just to be together. The debate was marked by more than one standing ovation from the audience. There is a certain amount of pride engendered by being a place that matters to the eventual election outcome. Houstonians cheered their candidates at sports bars, according to the Houston Chronicle. To quote:

Darla Kendzor, 31, of Houston, said Clinton's debate abilities helped her communicate her vision more clearly than Obama was able to articulate his.

"I think this is her forum," Kendzor said. "This is where she does well. She lays out her plans well. There's no fluff. Obama is not as detailed or clear. He repeats what she says about the issues. His ideas on the issues are not as developed."

Not far away at the Monsoon Wok & Lounge on McKinney, several dozen Obama supporters kept their eyes riveted on five TV screens scattered across the room as they munched on eggrolls and buffalo wings.

Seated at the bar, 24-year-old Ronethea Williams clapped loudly when Obama remarked that "Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die."

Williams said she was initially a "Hillary fan" but changed her mind.

Watching the Clinton-Obama presidential debate last night in Austin was for me very enjoyable and just about what I had predicted. It was, for the most part, very civil and had a good bit of substance. It did not plow much new ground, however. Dallas Morning News reporters CHRISTY HOPPE and GROMER JEFFERS JR. wrote by far the best article covering the content of the debate in the state. To quote:

In a critical debate that could help determine the Democratic nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama walked in lock step on the policies needing change but broke ranks on who could deliver it.

The largely civil discussion Thursday night included a few terse exchanges but was mostly memorable for Mrs. Clinton's emotional conclusion, tinged with a notion that she could lose but asserting that either candidate would serve the country well.

These two leading Democrats apparently still have a deep commitment to avoid splitting the party, no matter what. The Austin American Statesman saw the debate as more contentious than I did, however, calling it "prickly" during the second half. The paper reported that:

Nearly 2,000 people attended the invitation-only debate, mostly guests of UT and the Democratic Party. The audience included Democratic Texas lawmakers, 400 UT students and 200 registered Texas voters who won tickets in two separate drawings that thousands entered.

Democratic consultant Kelly Fero rated the debate a toss-up, though he said Clinton may have won some points with her closing remarks.

"In general, she was more energetic and dynamic, while he was more low-key and quiet," he said. "Close — just like their poll numbers in Texas."

Calli Rudebusch, 18, a UT freshman from Conroe majoring in government, said that seeing Obama in person solidified her support of him (she said she already voted for him). But she was thrilled to get Clinton's autograph and be there to witness history from her bleacher seat near the Longhorn band.

"I really feel that 20, 30 years down the line," she said, "I'm going to look back and go, 'Wow, I was there.' "

Former President Bill Clinton said again at a post debate rally that his wife absolutely must do well in the Texas primary in order to win the nomination. To quote from

Clinton again said he is confident that March 4 primary wins in the key states of Texas and Ohio.

"If she wins Texas and she wins Ohio, she will win Pennsylvania and she will be the nominee," Clinton told the crowd of hundreds.

"It is all up to you."

. . . She has so far focused her Texas visits largely on the U.S.- Mexico border in an effort to capture the support of Hispanic voters. She campaigned in Laredo earlier Thursday and was due in Dallas and Fort Worth on Friday.

Hillary Clinton will be in my part of Texas today. I will surely go to see her if I can. I got a phone call from her campaign with an offer of free tickets if I would leave the house right then and vote early for her. It was an interesting offer, but I did not take it up. It is just under two weeks until I get to cast my votes for the nation's next president. I would be happy with either candidate, but I will vote for Obama.

Update: Reports have just come in that a Dallas policemen has been killed in a motorcycle crash in the line of duty as he worked with the Dallas motorcade. Senator Clinton has just expressed her deepest condolences to the family and to the Dallas police department at their great loss. Senator Clinton came to the podium at what would have been the Fort Worth rally, and announced that it would be inappropriate to hold it under the circumstances. Then she headed back for the Dallas hospital to be with the policeman's next of kin. The Metroplex will be somber today as we realize that life is precious, and law enforcement is ever vulnerable.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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