19 and Counting

Hard to believe, but it’s been three weeks since we huddled around the TV to watch Barack, Hillary, and Wolf chitchat on a garishly blue and red stage. This is the 19 th debate, so if you’re having trouble motivating yourself to watch, it’s understandable. (Especially considering Lost starts smack-dab in the middle of it for the second debate in a row. Trailhead has confirmed that Obama is not a member of the Oceanic 6. But I digress …) But just think, you’ve come this far. You might as well finish ‘em off.

  1. Early voting has begun —Underreported story line alert! Texas has already started to vote, and turnout is huge— 10 times huger than 2004 in some parts. Considering people are already voting and polls suggests it’s anybody’s state, this debate has more significance than most. At other forums, the voters almost always had at least a few days to think about their impressions before they cast their votes. Now, Texans can run out to the polls first thing in the morning to cast their ballot. (Early voting ends Feb. 29.) The stakes aren’t just high, they’re pressing.
  2. Obama’s the frontrunner—now what? The knock against Obama at these debates has always been that he stays above the fray and is unwilling to mix it up. Now that he’s the man in charge, isn’t that what he’s supposed to do? If Hillary gets nasty and Obama responds in kind, then he’s an ungracious leader. But if he’s too cocky and doesn’t engage, the pundits will say he couldn’t stop the Hillary uprising when he had the chance. Ah, politics.
  3. Do issues even matter anymore? After this many debates, there doesn’t seem to be much more ground to cover, issues-wise. And the candidates themselves have largely abandoned issues to talk about who would be the best leader of the country, who would be ready on Day 1, and who would be stronger against John McCain. Tonight, expect issues to be window-dressing on the more contentious—and dare we say substantive—differences between the two Democrats.
  4. Latino love— Considering her other demographic stalwarts are fleeing , Clinton needs Hispanic voters now more than ever. Obama, meanwhile, has powered his way up the polls without broad-based Latino support. If Hillary overcourts Latinos, Obama could fill the void for white voters. If Obama, meanwhile, doesn’t pander to Latinos, any inroads he’s made in the community could evaporate. Look for more of the same, here.
  5. Will Hillary be a meanie? Now that she’s finally at a debate with Obama, will she remind him (and the millions watching) that he didn’t want to debate her elsewhere? If so, can Obama respond without flubbing his retort ? Clinton may also use this as her launching pad for further attacks against Obama’s record. Thus far, we don’t know what her tone will be over the next two weeks—tonight we’ll find out.

We’ll be live, from the Internet, blogging the debate as it happens. Festivities start at 8 p.m. ET.