The two constantly interrupted one another, questioning each other’s honesty. At one point Clinton was booed when she said that it was impossible to debate with Obama because he would not give a straight answer.
Such personal exchanges are dangerous for candidates, often turning off voters. As if realising they had gone too far, the two spent the latter part of the debate calling each by their first names and exchanging jokes and pleasantries.
Although only Clinton was booed, both may have been damaged by the exchanges.
If the debate was full of memorable moments — Mrs. Clinton accusing Mr. Obama of associating with a “slum landlord,” Mr. Obama saying he felt as if he was running against both Hillary and Bill Clinton, the two candidates talking over each other — the totality of the attacks also laid bare the ill will and competitive ferocity that has been simmering between them for weeks.
CNN I-Reporters, providing their reaction to the debate, responded negatively to the bickering tone between Clinton and Obama.
"I am proud that Sen. Edwards is taking the high road and making himself stand out from the bickering senators, Clinton and Obama. We don't need blame for our troubles, we need solutions," wrote David Parker of San Jose, California.
"The two leading candidates are getting closer to nothing — they will lose the election to Republican Party if they keep talking in such a way," Duop Chak of Colorado Springs, Colorado, wrote on CNN.com's Political Ticker.
A simmering feud between Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama erupted into charges of distortion and exaggeration in a gloves-off presidential debate Monday, with Clinton accusing him of representing a Chicago slumlord and Obama countering that she was a corporate lawyer for anti-union Wal-Mart.
Even in the superheated atmosphere of their fight for the party's nomination, the statements and exchanges between Clinton and Obama were unusually acrimonious and personal. The debate came as the two campaigns continued to complain about dirty politics and disenfranchisement of voters in Saturday's Nevada caucuses.
Last night was easily the most heated, argumentative debate of the campaign thus far. No other confrontation even comes close. Depending on one’s appetite for such things, it was either a riveting slug fest or an uncomfortable fracas, but for what it’s worth, I tend to lean towards the latter.
I suspect people responded differently to the fiery remarks based largely on their political sympathies, but I noticed two distinct angles. First, if there were concerns that Obama was “too nice” to mix it up, he probably put those concerns to rest last night; he gave as good as he got.
Second, this probably isn’t the direction that actually benefits Obama. Clinton doesn’t mind getting into a good ol’ fashioned brawl; she’s quick, smart, and quite adept in these scuffles. Just as importantly, she’s not afraid to throw dirt ...
The problem for Obama is getting dragged into the mud when he wants to aim higher.
Indeed, the moment the campaign gets ugly, he’s at a decided disadvantage — if he returns fire, it’s politics as usual, with politicians going bickering and getting personal. If he doesn’t return fire, and aims for a “new kind of politics,” the attacks from Clinton start to stick, and questions about general election “toughness” emerge.
Democrats are going crazy. I'm hearing from friends in DC, friends that are mostly apolitical, and blog friends that the tone of the primary is just vicious. Beyond that, it's not just the candidates, but supporters have now become nuts.
And the tone of the debate is just vicious. Barack Obama is basically calling Bill and Hillary Clinton liars, Obama attacked Clinton for being a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Walmart, and they are each misrepresenting the facts.
John Edwards got himself back in it — he showcased his style and his key issues, and is clearly back in the game. He showed he continues to deserve to share a debate stage with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and voters here will likely give him another look after tonight.
When Edwards finally got a chance to speak, he won applause by saying, "I want to know on behalf of voters here in South Carolina, (with) this kind of squabbling, how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this? ... I respect both of my fellow candidates, but we have got to understand this is not about us personally."
A memorable moment for Edwards was when he interrupted a testy exchange between Clinton and Obama by saying, “I also want to know, on behalf of voters here in South Carolina, this kind of squabbling, how many children is this going to get health care?”
The question stopped the Clinton-Obama arguing temporarily and made Edwards look like the adult between two bickering children.
Perhaps it was inevitable that any serious challenger to the former first lady would have to take on the whole Clinton machine. It would be intriguing to ferret out what the internal Obama polling is saying about the former president's involvement in the campaign. What we do know is that a national CBS News/New York Times poll, conducted after the New Hampshire primary that Hillary won, found that 43 percent of Democratic primary voters believe that it is a "bad thing" for just two families (the Bushes and the Clintons) to share the White House for 20 years.
The Democrats have long prided themselves on the history-making aspects of their presidential field. But Obama either stumbled or made an odd, caustic joke late in the debate when he burbled about the epic nature of "a race where you've got an African-American and a woman ... and John." You could see a visibly miffed Edwards at that moment wondering whether to strike Obama from his Christmas list.
But after Monday's mayhem in Myrtle Beach, the pride was — at least momentarily — gone. All that remained were the scars from a family argument that had turned horribly awry. It was about as nasty a debate as we have seen in this presidential cycle — and Mitt Romney was not even in the state.
Let the games continue.
(UPDATE): Speaking of continuing the games, Ben Smith of Politico says Hillary Clinton was bragging about her confrontation with Obama last night at a press conference in Washinton DC - Washington DC? Has she given up on SC?
"I think what we saw last night was that he’s very frustrated – Senator Obama is very frustrated," Clinton said this morning. "The events of the last 10 or so days, particularly the outcomes in New Hampshire and Nevada, have apparently convinced him to adopt a different strategy."
Clinton spoke at a D.C. press conference called to respond to what she called "a global economic crisis," at which she pressed President Bush to respond to with a blend of spending, regulation, and rebates. (Obama plans a speech on the economy later this morning in Greenville, S.C.
But she seemed to relish the platform to go after Obama's debate performance last night.
"He has a hard time responding to questions about his record," she said. "The Republicans are not going to have any compunctions about asking anybody anything."
She said Obama had come with only rehearsed answers.
"They were so rehearsed that he kept on insisting that I had mentioned President Reagan in what I had said when I didn't mention President Reagan," she said.
She sought to engage on one specific point, which she said Obama hadn't responded to: "In 2004 he said he agreed with the way George Bush was waging the war."
This is all part of the "he's not tough enough" campaign by the Clintons. Talk about the possibility of a backlash.
Hillary Clinton and John Edwards met privately backstage following a very contentious Democratic presidential debate in this coastal city, sources with both campaigns confirm to CNN.
The meeting took place in the Edwards campaign green room.
One of the sources said the meeting happened by chance and the conversation consisted of light chatter.
Nothing Hillary Clinton does happens by 'chance'. And it was obvious last night that Edwards had shifted the focus of his attacks to Obama. Is Edwards sensing a winner and trying to position himself for another VP run?
That would be smart for Edwards. People felt he should have been at the top of the ticket in ’04 and, if that were the case, he would have won. I firmly believe that if he were the nom this time around, he would win (given who the reps seem bent on choosing).
He probably thinks that if he can get the VP nom again to a loosing Hilary ticket, he could position himself for a ’third time’s a charm’ moment in 2012.