Democratic Debate Impressions

JOHNSTON, Iowa -- Quick impressions of early stages of Democratic debate on Iowa Public Television.

Edwards: Looks crisp and confident and has clearly honed his populist message about the role of corporate influence on American political life, his line "corporate power and greed have literally taken over the government," will stand as one of the punchiest of the day and crystallizes his campaign theme. His fumbling of his desire that this generation leave the nation in better shape than it was found left a humanizing and humorous feeling in the air

Obama: Hit solid notes on root causes of mortgage crisis and willingness to pay for new programs with spending cuts or higher taxes. Didn't get bogged down in policy fine points, but sounded skilled enough to deal with any lingering concerns about "experience" on core economic issues. Line about 12,000 U.S. corporations on an offshore island representing either the biggest building on earth or the biggest tax scam is likely to be remembered, in part because it was delivered as if not obsessively rehersed (which it probably was).

Clinton: Went straight to glory days of Bill Clinton's roaring '90s economy and "fiscal discipline," playing straight to Iowa Democrats who still fondly recall the Clinton economic years and the balanced budgets and surpluses that came with them (even if the GOP-controlled Congress of that era drove some of the politics and policy toward balanced budgets). Clinton looked a bit tense and sounded a bit more harsh than she probably realized, but that might just be opening debate jitters. Very solid on health care issue, showing she's ready to debate that issue vigorously in the campaign's closing days (Clinton camp already prepping attack ads on Obama in New Hampshire on this issue).