First off, this is quickly going around the Internet as Obama's YouTube moment. An awesome response to Hillary laughing at the moderator's statement. The audience lapped it up.
And in the post-debate analysis on Fox News (don't worry, the audience was made up of Democrats), Edwards and Obama scored VERY high, and Hillary... well, not so well. About half the audience thought Edwards won the debate, about half thought Obama won it. But notice, almost nobody came in there with Edwards as their #1 choice to begin with. He converted quite a few #3 choices into #1 choices for himself tonight.
And what were pundits and the media saying?
Rick Klein of ABC News: Edwards though wins on my scorecards -- he was relentlessly on message, sounding strong, and making a very good case to keep this a three-person race.
Chris Cillizza, The Fix: Edwards is, without question, one of the most gifted (if not the most gifted) debater on any stage. And, for the first 45 minutes of the debate his populist "us versus them" message really hit home. "Corporate power and greed have literally taken over the government," he said at one point; "You have to be willing to fight....I have been fighting these people and winning my entire life," he said at another.
Mark Halperin, TIME: Displayed with mechanized efficiency the same confidence and warm populism that he has nearly perfected on the campaign trail. Talked about his family's working-class roots and the daily struggles of real Iowans with the silky polish of the world-class trial lawyer that he once was. If enough Iowa Democrats watched the debate, Vegas harpies would be dumb as an ear of corn to bet too much against this guy in the caucuses.
Vaughn Ververs, CBS News: If there was a winner, it may have been Edwards. His answers to almost every question hewed to his populist themes of sticking up for the disadvantaged and sticking it to corporate America. That should play well among Democrats in Iowa.
Chris Woods, Bleeding Heartland: I'm going to argue that John Edwards did indeed win the debate. He articulated a coherent message that blamed corruption, greed, and entrenched interests for the problems America faces. He also clearly told viewers that the only way to enact the policies and proposals that the candidates have promised is to elect a president that will unite America to stand up and fight back against these people. His criticisms were constant, his answers honest, and his leadership potential was clear. He told us how he is fighting for the middle class, and how he's the candidate to truly enact change.
Des Moines Register editorial board: "Somewhere in America tonight, a child will go to bed hungry." said Edwards. "Somewhere in America today...a father will lose his job." All of us are going to be just fine, he said of fellow candidates. "What's at stake is whether America is going to be just fine."
(Here's the video of that clip.)
Don Frederick, L.A. Times: John Edwards no doubt benefited in today's debate from being next to last among the six Democratic presidential candidates present in answering what, if elected, he would aim to accomplish in year one. Still, when he got his chance, the son of a mill worker used it to drive home the unvarnished populism that has defined his second White House run.
After noting with a wry grin that those preceding him had made "an awful lot of promises" -- and quickly listing a few of his own -- he homed in on his core message:
"None of those things are going to happen unless we have a president of the United States who calls on the American people to join together to take this democracy and take this country back. Because what's happening in America today is absolutely clear: We have a small group of entrenched interests, corporate powers, corporate greed, the most wealthy people in America who are controlling what's happening in the democracy, and we have to take it back."
Of late, he's been delivering that class manifesto with less anger than previously. But win or lose, Edwards cannot be accused of mincing his words. And somewhere, the ghost of William Jennings Bryan must be smiling.
All this is why Republican strategists admit Edwards is the candidate they fear the most.