All the Democrats are showing up in South Carolina Thursday night. Will Barack Obama, who gave the first of a series of major policy speeches yesterday—that one on National Security—put substance under the sizzle? Will John Edwards focus on trying to own health care, perhaps the domestic issue most important to democratic primary voters where he has a specific plan; Hillary Clinton’s is still uncertain and Obama promises to unveil his proposal soon. Maybe he’ll jump the gun in the debate. Speaking of guns, will Clinton, arguably positioned now as the establishment candidate in a year of change, commit an act of political bravery by volunteering before she’s asked that of course we ought to ban assault weapons and close the gun show loophole. (Whether she realizes it or not, she’s never going to be the candidate of the NRA.)
In light of the horror at Virginia Tech, I have a strong feeling Brian Williams will press the candidates on gun safety. Someone like Sen. Clinton could answer the question before being forced to. Someone like Sen. Obama can’t afford to sound like he’s ducking it if he intends to remain the candidate who doesn’t play politics as usual. Everyone on that stage will have to take a position; watch to see if it’s real or jello. Bill Richardson, of course, has a bit of a problem since he recently signed concealed carry in New Mexico.
Each of the second-tier candidates should try to break through with one distinguishing argument. But it can’t be experience—that was four years ago. Hillary has plenty, and Edwards and Obama have enough.
Finally, everyone except Sen. Clinton will say that the Iraq war resolution was a mistake. Can she make do by emphasizing her support for a date for withdrawal—and how will she or any of the other candidates respond if Brian Williams presses on whether they mean all combat troops, or all US forces? One thing I’m betting she won’t do is attack Obama—that tactic hasn’t worked out very well so far. The debate is a real chance for Sen. Clinton to refresh her candidacy and let people who worry that she’s too carefully calibrated see her as she really is. She’s not inevitable anymore, probably never was. But she could win—the debate and the nomination.
P.S. At the end all the commentators should be required to say who they actually thought won. I will.