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.
Walter Shapiro, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, is an award-winning political columnist who has covered the last nine presidential campaigns. Along the way, he has worked as Salon's Washington bureau chief, as well as for The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, Esquire, USA Today and, most recently, Yahoo News. He is also a lecturer in political science at Yale University. He can be reached by email at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.