Blitzer: "There are no rules"

And we're off.

Published February 1, 2008 1:05AM (EST)

CNN's Wolf Blitzer tried to start this debate off on a wild note, proclaiming "There are no rules" and, I'd guess, hoping for something of a pro-wrestling-style smackdown. But in his opening statement, Sen. Barack Obama didn't sound willing to comply. He started his statement off with a few kind words for departed candidate John Edwards, then said that he and the only other candidate on the stage, Sen. Hillary Clinton, were friends before the campaign began and would be friends after. The pro-Obama crowd here gave that line some laughter.

Clinton, too, sounded gracious in her opening statement. And though she outlined some policy differences between the two of them in her first answer, she took care to emphasize that the real difference lies between the Democrats and Republicans. She scored one of the first truly good lines of the night, saying that the Republicans showed Wednesday night they were more of the same, but that "neither of us -- just by looking at us you can tell -- we are not more of the same."

Also, I'm realizing I can't keep up with the debate and create new posts at the same time. I'm going to do this the clichéd way and continue to update this post; refresh to see the latest. If you missed the post below and wonder what I mean by "here," I'm at a bar in midtown Manhattan, at an event sponsored by Generation Obama.

8:17 -- Obama says, "I was opposed to Iraq from the start." Big cheer goes up from the crowd here.

8:27 -- Long discussion on intricacies of the differences between the healthcare plans of the two candidates interrupted by Blitzer asking Obama, "Is that a swipe at Sen. Clinton?"

8:29 -- I will try and be more detailed here, but bear with me, this live-blogging thing is harder than it looks, and it's my first time. Also, I'm now sitting on a barstool with my laptop on my lap and some guy's elbow in my back. Not the easiest way to type.

8:31 -- Obama takes a whack at Republican fiscal irresponsibility to loud applause from the crowd here; a crack about Sen. John McCain's "Straight Talk Express going off the rails" gets big laughs.

8:34 -- The great thing about a debate in Hollywood? "Seinfeld's" Jason Alexander! Rob Reiner's face on the screen, for some reason, didn't get nearly as enthusiastic a reaction.

8:37 -- Blitzer takes the Republican line, says letting Bush tax cuts expire will effectively mean a tax increase. Obama's willing to concede this, but turns it around, saying it'll only mean tax increases for the wealthy. Gets in a joke about the crowd at the debate, scores a little laugh.

8:38 -- We're on to immigration. Jeanne Cummings, a senior correspondent from the Politico, which is cosponsoring the debate, reads a question from a reader about the economic effect of immigration on the African-American community. Obama goes back to his roots as a community organizer, says all races are feeling an economic pinch. "I think to suggest somehow that we're seeing in inner-city unemployment, for example, is attributable to immigrants is evasive scapegoating that I do not believe." Big cheers for that one.

8:41 -- Clinton is asked about drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, but she wants to go back to the question of immigration's impact on African-Americans. This draws a smattering of boos from the pro-Obama crowd here. Much of the rest of her answer makes her sound as if she's at the wrong party's debate -- she's pandering to the nativists at first, though she softens it a bit by dismissing any talk of mass deportations.

8:45 -- It's clear who the candidates onstage tonight believe is important on the other side of the aisle; Obama makes another joke at McCain's expense, saying he worked with McCain on comprehensive immigration reform, though McCain might not admit it now. Blitzer keeps trying to start a fight, prodding Obama to go after Clinton directly. Obama won't take the bait, and calls Blitzer on it. But then he gets in a jab at Clinton, saying, "People don't come here to drive, they come here to work." She smirks, but it's not a happy smirk.

8:48 -- And Clinton strikes back! She points out that she cosponsored comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2004, "before Obama was in the Senate."

8:51 -- Another jab from Obama, who says Clinton came to a clear position on drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, "but that it took her a while." Cheers go up again here. Clinton strikes back, saying Obama had similar difficulties with the issue. Silence from this crowd.

8:53 -- We're at a commercial break, blissfully, so we're going to switch to a new post for this. Here at the Generation Obama event, Tony Lake, an Obama advisor who was national security advisor under President Bill Clinton, is speaking here briefly. He asks for an update on who people think is winning the debate -- Clinton, surprisingly, gets a couple of cheers, but the real applause is for Obama.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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