I have to say that as a Democrat I was pleased with the performance of all nine candidates. Now, that does not mean I would be pleased to have any of the nine represent the party, but that they all came across as respectable and thoughtful individuals. I must admit to being a bit surprised by Braun, Sharpton and Kucinich. All three are fringe candidates, but they did not act or speak that way. In fact, Braun made me half wish that she was not such a phenomenal screw up as a US Senator, and thus not a contender.
But the debate did provide a means to narrow my choices down, in terms of who I will eventually support. Prior to the debate I had settled on Graham, Lieberman or Edwards. And, I walk away with only one of those intact- Graham. I thought that Edwards was a bit too populist in his message, much like Gore in 2000. This is troubling in two senses- one is that I am not enamored, as some Democrats are, of class warfare; second, eventhough Edwards comes from humble roots, the American people will still have some difficulty accepting that a multi-millionaire trial attorney is one of them. As for Lieberman, I want to like him, I really do. But his constant reference to the Bible and his moralism serve to turn me off (and I think they are equally off-putting to many others).
Graham had a great line, mocking Dean by saying he represented "the electable wing of the Democratic Party." Graham brings with him not only moderate bonafides, but has served as governor of the 4th largest state as well as US Senator. He also noted that he is a centrist and believes that you "don't make policy from either end zone, but from the 50 yard line." The question in many people's minds is whether Graham has the charisma needed, but after watching the debate he did not seem to be deficient as compared to his opponents, and he is cerainly no Paul Tsongas.
Alas, my list may have dropped two contenders, but it has added at least one and maybe two. I was very impressed by Gephardt. He was eloquent, knowledgeable and articulate. Sure, he's been around the track before, but I am not certain that isn't an attribute. He has an understanding of both foreign and domestic policy, he supported the Iraq War, and he has appeal to middle America.
One candidate that I cannot seem to make my mind up about is my home state Senator- John Kerry. I respect his intelligence and his record of public service, but at times he seems too calculating for my taste. I must say, though, that I find the squabble between Kerry and Dean to be a bit stupid.
Ok, so the debate didn't clear up all my questions, obviously. But what it did show is that a few candidates up on the stage are not presidential timber and the sooner they exit the race the better, for it will allow more time for those candidates who actually have a chance to get out their message. So, will Kucinich, Braun, Sharpton and Dean please do the Party a favor and hit the showers.