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We're going to miss the drama

On the Trail / DEBATE LESSONS

February 29, 2008|Don Frederick

They've been the political equivalent of a long-running road show -- 20 debates, starting last spring, among the Democratic presidential candidates, and 16 featuring the Republican contenders. But the GOP players appear to have ended their engagements, and Tuesday's results in Ohio and Texas could bring down the curtain for the Democrats. Here's what we've learned:

* Hillary Rodham Clinton and pre-cooked barbs are not a good match. The "change you can Xerox" line she sought to zing Barack Obama with last week was greeted with boos and hisses. Faring no better was her awkward reference this week to a "Saturday Night Live" skit that spoofed what some -- particularly the Clinton camp -- believe has been fawning media treatment of her rival.

* The gatherings are not necessarily bonding experiences. In the GOP face-offs, it quickly became apparent that several of the candidates -- especially John McCain -- were rubbed the wrong way by Mitt Romney. By the last few Republican debates, McCain's disdain for his foe was palpable.

* Some quips live on (even if some candidacies don't). Among the Democrats, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has yet to be topped for his putdown last fall of Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani: "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11."

At the initial GOP debates, Mike Huckabee's good lines helped fuel his surprise rise. His most memorable probably came when he was pressed on whether Jesus would support the death penalty. Replied the ordained Baptist minister: "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office."

* Taking hot issues off the table is not a good idea. The mid-December debates the Des Moines Register sponsored were much anticipated -- they were the last ones before the state's crucial caucuses. But the newspaper editor moderating the Republican gathering began by banning any back-and-forth on the war in Iraq and immigration policy, saying the candidate positions on these key topics were well known. The result, predictably, was perhaps the season's least interesting forum.

-- Don Frederick

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Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topoftheticket.

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