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Looking for a Candidate with True Grit

As Jane and Scarecrow noted yesterday, the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night degenerated into a tag-team assault on Hillary Clinton by most of other candidates (and the supposed moderator). But to judge from the press release her campaign put out, Team Clinton is as happy as anyone with how things went:

Despite the best efforts of her six fellow candidates to trip her up, Senator Clinton stood strong and made her case on critical issues like Iran, Iraq and Social Security. She kept her focus on the real target in this election: Republicans and the Bush Administration. Instead of going after the other Democrats, Hillary made the argument for why change is needed and why she has the strength and experience to lead the Democratic Party in its efforts to make that change happen.

. . . The American people are looking for a President who can stand strong and come out ahead under any circumstances.

Last night, once again, that person was Hillary Clinton.

One strong woman.

The campaign press release soon after the debate hit the same notes in summing up media reactions:

The Reviews Are In: ‘Strong,’ ‘Sharp,’ ‘You Won’t See Her Losing Her Cool’

Compare this with something I wrote three weeks ago, musing on Barack Obama’s perceived lack of toughness:

I think the reality-based portion of the country has a well-formed sense of what they want the next president to do — namely, tackle the various problems Dubya has led us into or left untended: Iraq, healthcare insurance, lack of economic growth, global warming, etc. This is challenging work to begin with, made even more so by the gauntlet of Republican mudslinging that will be directed at any Democrat who takes on the tasks.

So the successful Democratic primary candidate, I think, will be the one who best demonstrates the clearest understanding of the challenge, which entails both an understanding of the issues and the unflappability and/or determination to stay the course amid the inevitable partisan firestorm. . . . Dubya has got the country stuck in the ditch in any number of painful ways. So the candidate people are likely to vote for is the one who gives the best sense of being ready to roll up their sleeves and start digging us out.

The word for that isn’t toughness or ruthlessness, it’s grit. And it’s not to be directed at one’s opponents for the nomination, but at the substantive problems to be solved.

If you wonder why Hillary is kicking your candidate’s ass doing so well in the polls, you might want to give this some thought.  Markos is dead wrong when he says today that Clinton hasn’t provided “a rationale for her candidacy” — her rationale is her experience, combined with her ability to take a punch.  And that appeals to millions of ordinary Democrats who not only know how much heavy lifting will be needed to get America out of the ditch, but also remember what happened to John Kerry, Howard Dean, and Al Gore.

Conversely, it helps her that her main opponents (Obama and Edward) not only are inexperienced in policy terms, and relative neophytes in facing the GOP sludge machine, they’re… well, let’s be blunt… pretty boys.  It’s hard to look at those guys in think “grit,” though Barack seems to have taken my advice and given it a try in his latest Iowa ad.  I’ll have more tomorrow at this time about what else Clinton’s opponents can do — what will, and what won’t work in challenging her front-runner status.

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (