Here are the unplugged, off-the-top of my head reactions, typed in a frantic hurry in a press room as the cameras and microphones are being set up for the fandango of post-debate spin: This was a don't-rock-the-boat debate. There were no dramatic clashes, few memorable moments, much candidate boilerplate and a marzipan overload of paeans to Iowa. In short, you did not miss too much if you opted for the George Mitchell press conference about the steroid All-Scar team.
But since there has to be a verdict, here goes. The winner for consistently staying on message and making his appeals to the Iowa voters in a smiling fashion: John Edwards. The winner for the best strategic laugh: Hillary Clinton. (Her guffaw was in response to a question to Barack Obama about how could he be the candidate of change if he was depending so heavily on foreign-policy veterans of the Clinton administration). The winner for surpassing expectations with his best debate performance to date: Bill Richardson. The winner as the candidate who may have benefited the most from the placid tenor of the debate: Barack Obama.
Now back to the real business of journalism -- chatting with my press-room colleagues to decide what it all meant.