Did Hillary Fail?

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It’s no secret that presidential contender Hillary Clinton and her campaign have hit a few rough spots as Barack Obama digs into her electoral base.

Clearly Mrs. Clinton’s sliding in the ranks and needed to make a good showing during last night’s CNN-sponsored debates. Multiple pundits and journalists are calling Clinton’s appearance a failure, but we’re not sure that’s entirely fair.

Slate’s John Dickerson writes that Obama won the tie, if that makes sense:

Clinton was occasionally aggressive, but not enough to shake up the dynamic that has her nearly tied in polls in the crucial March 4 primary states of Ohio and Texas. Clinton’s game plan was to connect with voters, not to tear down Barack Obama. She took pains to show that she understood the concerns of regular folks and that she had plans to address them. She did this well at times, particularly in her final answer of the debate, but Obama turned in one of his strongest performances so far of this campaign. In an even match, the tie goes to the front-runner.

The AP’s analysis echoes these sentiments, highlighting the former First Lady’s “graciousness,” particularly with part of her closing remark: “No matter what happens in this contest – and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. Whatever happens, we’re going to be fine.” Obama supporter and Texas Representative Rafael Anchia described Clinton’s comments as “almost a quasi-concession speech”. We’re not sure we agree, especially considering that both she and Barack Obama have said similar things during previous debates.

No, Clinton didn’t hit a grand slam last night, but it seems to us she managed to throw Obama off guard. Not that he was terribly balanced. He looked tired and sluggish, which made Clinton – and her awesome outfit! – seem more energetic than the hopeful presidential candidate. And, if you ask us, we thought her “Change you can xerox” comment may be part of a larger tactic. As Chris Matthews noted on Hardball last night, Clinton used the phrase “Let’s get real” – or a variant – a whopping ten times during a recent speech. She may very well be looking for another angle for her experience argument.

The standing ovation at the end definitely didn’t help matters and seemed to hit Obama a bit. Those of you watching the end of last night’s debate may have noticed what we perceived to be obvious discomfort on Obama’s part. His moment of chivalry – pulling out Mrs. Clinton’s chair – came off (to us, at least) as a last ditch effort to dominate the stage. It didn’t work, particularly when the Senator from Illinois ended up standing around waiting for Campbell Brown to stop speaking and shake his hand.

So, did Hillary Clinton fail last night? No, not necessarily. Did she blow Obama out of the water? No. Did she do well? Yes, we think so. That doesn’t mean, of course, that she’s going to do any better in the remaining primaries, especially as more “blue collar” voters go toward Obama, who also leads with Democrats living abroad.