Will Obama's debate stumble hurt him?

As the front-runner he shouldn't seem so peevish about tough questions. But Clinton missed a chance to recover from her Bosnia debacle.

By Joan Walsh

Published April 18, 2008 10:00PM (EDT)

I'm going to be using my weekly Current video to wrap up the week in politics, and this week, the Democratic debate was the big story. Like most people, I think Barack Obama stumbled. The question is, can Hillary Clinton take advantage of it? I'd argue Clinton failed to capitalize on a big opening Wednesday night: when a former supporter, in a taped video, asked her to explain her Bosnia sniper fire story. Instead of looking into the camera and apologizing, her defense was to say: "I may be a lot of things, but I'm not dumb" -- seeming to argue that because she told the truth in her book, she couldn't have intended to lie on the campaign trail. I expected her to tell the voter how sorry she was she'd lost his trust, and his vote, and say she'd work hard to get both back. It was a missed opportunity for humility and engagement.

But most of the missed opportunities were Obama's. The thing that stands out, two days later, is how irritated he seemed by the tough questioning. Sure, I wish there had been more substance to the ABC debate, but now that he's the clear front-runner, Obama had to expect more attention to questions about his past, from Jeremiah Wright to Bill Ayers. His irritation was irritating. "Gotcha" questions come with the territory.

We'll have more information on Tuesday, when Pennsylvania votes, about whether Obama's stumble Wednesday night hurt him.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2008 Elections