One final thought on the debate: While it may have ended the "Clinton slipping" narrative, it won't have changed all that much on the ground in Iowa, the most-important narrative-shaping contest going forward. There, the race remains tied. The Des Moines Register's political columnist David Yepsen, under the banner "That's Why the Lady is a Champ," writes:

Give Thursday's debate to Hillary Clinton.

After two bad weeks in the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, she recovered her footing and pushed back sharply at her opponents in a debate Thursday night.

But he also had some sharp words for John Edwards, the candidate The Register endorsed last cycle, giving him a last-minute boost and helping to fuel his end-of-contest momentum. Wrote Yepsen:

John Edwards should have stayed home. Clinton took the wind out of his sails early in the evening by implying he was "throwing mud." He never seemed to bounce back from that slap, and he also got hooted when he talked about her as a corporate Democrat.

Edwards also had a poor night because for the first time, the differences between his votes as a U.S. senator and his talk now came into clear focus. He voted for the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear-waste disposal site. Those votes are at odds with the populist rhetoric he serves up today, and it will undermine the credibility of his message.

This passage raises the interesting question of whether Edwards can score The Register's endorsement again. Candidates endorsed by The Register don't tend to win Iowa, but they do much better than they would have done without it, since the paper has some real impact in Des Moines and its surrounding counties. An endorsement of Clinton or Barack Obama might not be enough to put them in first place or help them win Iowa, but it could be enough to help one of them into the second-place slot. And it will be a sign of a decelerating campaign if Edwards loses an endorsement he had the last time around.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

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