Newsweek's Howard Fineman:
10:15 -- Could Hillary Clinton be any better prepared? Russert asks about Social Security financing; she knows that this is a topic Russert knows in his bones, and has talked about often. The debate briefly turns into Russert-Clinton, which is sort of a win for Clinton. She refuses to agree in advance to raise the payroll tax cap, currently at $97,500. That sounds statesmanlike but a little dodgy; Edwards then hits it out of the park, talking about a "protective zone" of income between $97,500 and $200,000. His proposals sounded carefully thought through—whether you agree with it or not—and was much more specific than what Obama had to say on the topic. Hillary is talking too much about what her "husband" did; she isn't being specific enough—Edwards wins the round.
10:30 -- With a half hour left I haven't seen Hillary lose this, even though her defense of Israel's attack on Syria didn't sit well with the crowd. From where I sit, Edwards has emerged so far the most forceful challenger to her (other than Tim Russert).
10:47 -- I gotta go back out to the Dartmouth Green for Hardball. I go with the tentative conclusion (unless something spectacular happens in the last 10 minutes) that Obama didn't do much for himself, that Hillary didn't hurt herself and that Edwards showed that if Obama isn't going to be the main challenger, he is ready to be.
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder:
Edwards was Edwards on Centrum Silver: straightforward, confident, clear, knowledgeable, thoroughly encased in his own frame. Ying to the yang of both Obama and Clinton; If you’re new to nomination politics, then you’d think Edwards – and not Obama – was Hillary Clinton’s main foil. The war. Social Security. Health care. Campaign ethics. Clinton didn't take the punch, but she did move to dodge them, which is a victory for JRE.
The best answer of the night: one very prominent Republican said that Clinton gave it, when disagreeing with husband about a torture scenario – would she allow it if Al Q’s number three promised to reveal the location of a nuclear bomb.
Russert was sly, positing the scenario without identifying the author. Clinton took the bait. Russert revealed that the positor was William Jefferson Clinton. So “you disagree?” Russert asked. “Well he’s not standing here right now.”
Russert: “ So there is a disagreement?”
Clinton: “ Well, I’ll talk to him later.”
This Republican told me: “Best answer of the night. Smart and strong.”
Of course, as someone quipped, Hillary is running a good Republican campaign.
DailyKos post-debate straw poll:
More than one of the above 4%
None of the above 6%
The key moment may have come with this answer highlighting the difference between Edwards and Hillary.