THE CHARISMA FACTOR. A little late, but I can't help weighing in on last night's debate. One of the biggest surprises of this primary thus far has got to be who's engaging and who's a disappointment on the stump. Although there's tremendous energy when Obama enters a room (I've seen him speak in person three times), he's consistently underwhelming as an orator. And Edwards is failing to live up to the optimistic, progressive morning-in-America persona he honed in 2004. His choice to come out swinging on the Iraq supplemental when he actually agreed with Obama and Clinton's votes appeared quibbling and amateurish, and for me, at least, was uncomfortable to watch. Hillary struck me as relaxed and above the fray; she turned in a fine performance. Biden I couldn't look away from, but I also can't say I found his habit of yelling at the top of his lungs to make a point very endearing.

About half way through, I decided Bill Richardson should just disappear, mostly because of the intense awkwardness of all his exchanges with Wolf. But props to Richardson for bringing up two subjects that went unexplored by the other candidates: public education and the unfair, anti-family "touch back" requirement in the immigration reform proposal.

All in all, yes, it was a substantive, policy-focused debate. But it's important not to overlook the x-factors of charisma, appearance, and performance, which are the deciding factors for so many voters.

--Dana Goldstein

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