The most unfortunate victim of the Iowa caucuses was last night's lackluster debate in New Hampshire as everyone decided to play it safe with cautious, uninspiring performances that were unlikely to change anyone's minds or spur the undecideds in any particular direction. It actually made me feel sorry for Howard Dean as the way-over-the-top criticism of his Iowa concession speech left him off-balance, unable to really whack a couple of softballs thrown his way by the moderators. He did get one good shot in when given a second chance to comment on KerryEdwardsLieberman's voting for the war resolution - laying the blame for the deaths of the 500-and-counting US soldiers at their feet. Overall, he came off as the socially-liberal, fiscally conservative Democrat he really is. He probably stopped the bleeding but it may be too little, too late to get him back on top as Edwards seems to have firmly positioned himself in that seat now.
Clark, on the other hand, is still looking for his seat. It's ridiculous that, with the Republicrat Lieberman in the race, Clark has to deal with so many questions about his true party affiliation. Nevertheless, he looked ill-prepared last night and did nothing to establish himself as a credible alternative to the others. As one pundit put it, he's just not ready for prime time and it showed last night. [Yes, that's me climbing off the bandwagon. The search for Plan B continues as I glance in Edwards' direction...]
Kerry seems to have inexplicably reverted to his smug frontrunner persona that saw him practically written off three weeks ago. The polls are in his favor right now but, after Iowa, he must know that he can't take anything for granted. If he doesn't win in NH, his own backyard, he's toast.
Edwards probably came out of the debate with the most to gain. Unlike Dean and Kerry, he doesn't have to win New Hampshire. He doesn't even need the surprising finish he pulled off in Iowa. His real target next Tuesday is finishing ahead of Wesley Clark, the other southerner, who is looking more and more like a fish out of water. February 3rd is when Edwards will have his day of reckoning and, barring a total collapse of Dean's campaign (aka less than 2nd place in NH), this is going to be a horse race all the way to the convention. Which is just fine with me as it's the scenario that most works in Kucinich's favor.
NH Prediction: DeanKerry (pick), Edwards, Clark, KucinichLieberman (pick), Sharpton