Debate Cliche Preview

With just minutes to go before tonight's ABC debates, we offer a breathless rundown of the Conventional Wisdom.

By Walter Shapiro

Published January 5, 2008 10:22PM (EST)

The tension is electric here in the vast, still half- empty press room on the campus of Saint Anselm College where in just 90 minutes the make-or-break ABC-Facebook two-party debate double-header will begin. The Republicans go first at 7 pm.

Can the free-wheelin' Mike Huckabee build on his momentum coming out of his breakthrough Iowa caucus victory? Will Mitt Romney -- the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts -- continue the scorched-earth tone of his TV commercials? And the stakes are high as well tonight for John McCain, who rode to a 20-point victory in the Granite State in 2000 aboard his "Straight Talk Express." Remember that in New Hampshire independents can vote in either party's primary -- and McCain, the former Vietnam POW, may woo them to the GOP side.

Turning to the Democrats, where the fireworks begin at 8:45, tonight may be the most important evening of Hillary Clinton's political career. Can the one-time front-runner rebound from her humiliating third-place finish in Iowa and become the second "Comeback Kid" in the family? Will Clinton open up a new line of attack against Barack Obama as the New Hampshire polls begin turning against her? Obama was, of course, the victor in Thursday's Iowa caucuses -- and the question tonight is whether anything can derail the high-flying first-term Illinois senator. As for John Edwards, who edged Hillary Clinton for second in Iowa, tonight may be his best shot to get back in the ball game.

But is it still jump ball? Or is it Obama driving for the basket?

All this remains to be seen.

Walter Shapiro

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 and followed on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton John Edwards John Mccain R-ariz.