Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Austin

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6:25 p.m. And we're in. There's not quite the circus outside I would've expected, although there were some clowns from the Ron Paul campaign, no doubt talking about how their candidate isn't a racist. (Click here for a slideshow of images from the great outdoors.)

6:35 p.m. I see the college reporters in front of me in the press room are doing the “look what I got in the grab bag post.” Dammit, I was going to do that, especially while Jim Steinberg, dean of the LBJ School, is giving his kick-off speech. No offense against the dean, of course. It’s just a little early to really get going.

Instead, I’ll talk about the drive here. Specifically, the Sean Hannity Show, which I heard the whole way up. Apparently Mr. America was going to take the day off, but he just had to enter the studio after that story about John McCain and the lobbyist ran in the New York Times. In order to speak truth to such an agenda-driven report, Sean interviewed – drum roll, please – Joe Lieberman, Pat Buchanan and Bob Bennet, McCain’s lawyer. Talk about a panel without an agenda.

Lieberman, by the way, thinks McCain, not Obama, is the candidate of change. You know, because, um, McCain agrees with George W. Bush on practically every single issue.

Oh wait, there is immigration, and that makes McCain a maverick. What's that you say? Bush wasn't actually in lockstep with the xenophobes on immigration either? Ah, I guess they’re both mavericks then.

6:52 p.m. By now you’ve probably seen Kirk Watson’s less-than-stellar performance on Hardball, in which the State Senator couldn’t name a single legislative accomplishment by Obama. Way to go, Kirk. Now everyone seems to be interviewing your candidate's supporters and getting them to say “hope” and “believe” and “change” and that’s about it.

Does this mean Obama supporters are a little fanatical and might be ignorant of policy? Maybe. Will Clinton run with this theme during tonight’s debate? We shall see.

7:01 p.m. The candidates just entered stage right. A white woman and a black man. Man, these are exciting times.

7:04 p.m. “We want to have a real conversation between these two candidates” says moderator Campbell Brown. And then they go to canned candidate speeches.

Clinton goes first. She mentions Barbara Jordan – Happy Birthday, Barbara – and gets serious applause. And let’s not forget Ann Richards. (No mention of the silver foot, regretfully.) Clinton throws down on discrimination against sick people. Walter Reed sucks too. We need to help the middle class. This is your campaign.

Up next is Obama. We’re in a defining moment in our history, he says. War sucks. So does the economy. It sucks for people in [insert random place name] and it sucks for people in [insert another American city here].

7:12 p.m. Obama is still going. Now he’s quoting Barbara Jordan. Take that, Hillary!

In all seriousness, kudos to Clinton for keeping it short.

7:14 p.m. First question: Cuba.

Clinton says she won't talk to Cuba until the country makes some serious changes. She wouldn't meet with Raul until after he starts making progress towards...you know, America-style stuff.

Obama would meet with Raul. Says the starting point should be liberty for the Cuban people. Says he would meet without preconditions, but there would have to be preparation, an agenda. Human rights. Opening up the press. Says the US should talk to its friends as well as its enemies.

7:22 p.m. Next question: The Economy. How are each of you different from the other on this issue? In other words, could you please make a straw man of your opponent's position?

Obama: No tax breaks for companies sending jobs overseas. No Bush tax cuts for the rich. No tax loopholes and havens. View trade with labor and environmental issues in mind. No lead paint in toys. Invest in a green economy.

Obama says he and Clinton agree on most of these issues, but...how do we get it done? We need a working coalition for change, he says, without special interests and lobbyists.

Clinton: She agrees with a lot of what Obama just said. She mentions two states: Texas and Ohio...wait, weren't those the two places Obama mentioned earlier? Funny how they'd both pick the same places.

Clinton wants a trade time-out. Wants a moratorium on home foreclosures for 90 days. Texas. Ohio. Wants to freeze interest rates for five years.

She wants to end W's war on science. Big applause. The moderator just tried to shut her down, but she won't stop just yet.

7:28 p.m. Clinton wants comprehensive immigration reform. Wants a path to citizenship introduced within the first 100 days of her presidency. Obama wants comprehensive reform too. However, he doesn't want people skipping in line. Oh damn. Do we have a disagreement here? Hillary is smiling, waiting...

7:35 p.m. And now John King is asking about the border fence. How would Clinton feel about that if elected? She wants to review the whole damn thing, she says. Maybe we don't need a fence everywhere. Listen to people on the border, she says.

Obama says he and Clinton almost entirely agree here.

7:42 p.m. Jorge Ramos wants to know if there's a downside to this country become bilingual.

Clinton says other languages are great, but we need English to be the common, unifying language. Not the official language, mind you. Just the one everyone speaks.

Obama agrees too. (Don't blame me. I voted for Kodos.)

7:46 p.m. Commercial break. Time to look at cute kids who love Obama. Actually, someone should've interviewed this little whippersnapper to see how he feels about the issues. Don't buy into the hype, little man.

7:50 p.m. John King is basically asking Hillary Clinton to talk some shit. Let's see how this goes...

Clinton says she offers solutions, because that's been her life for the past 35 years. And she just brought up Kirk Watson. Shazam!

7:52 p.m. Obama is talking about Walter Reed, about health care. About some other stuff. But I'm having trouble concentrating here. She played the Kirk Watson card. I still can't believe it.

Oh, okay, now Obama is talking about endorsements and thinks it's weird she would think his supporters are being duped in some way. His supporters know we need to move forward, he says. They aren't fools. They know we need to move beyond racial and regional and religious differences. (The new three Rs, perhaps?)

7:57 p.m. So what's up with the plagiarism, Barack?

Obama has given a lot of speeches, he says. Says the notion is funny because Deval Patrick gave him the line. (Not a whole lot of applause here.)

7:59 p.m. Hillary: "If your candidacy is going to be all about words, they should be your own words...Lifting entire passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox." (All of press row just made that "oh, damn!" noise in unison.)

Now Hillary is going on and on about the issues and Barack is getting antsy. Smooth move on Hill's part. Throw down a bad-ass insult and then blabber on for a while...

8:02 p.m. Barack doesn't want to force people into universal health care. He wants to reduce costs. Says he isn't leaving 50 million people out. (Sorry, this is something Clinton mentioned earlier when I was still loving the Xerox line. I'm horrible. I know.)

8:06 p.m. Another commercial break. Sorry, we're all out of photos of cute kids. Let's up the ante a bit.

8:10 p.m. Is it just me, or is moderator Campbell Brown more quick to shut down Clinton than Obama?

8:15 p.m. Jorge Ramos: So tell me, Hill, is Barack not ready?

She's talking about all the stuff she's done. She's talking about all the fun stuff happening in the world right now. Says she wants the Serbian government to protect our embassy. Says she's ready on day one to be commander in chief.

Obama says he wouldn't be running if he didn't think he was prepared. Says his number one job will be to keep the American people safe. Oh, and by the way, Clinton totally voted for Iraq, a war that diverted our attention and stretched our military.

8:21 p.m. John King: So how you gonna deal with John McCain's experience as a soldier? Oh, wait, that's not his question. That was just some kind of intro. His real question: Is Iraq today better or worse because of the surge?

Clinton: Our troops have made it more secure, but the real purpose of the surge has not been achieved. The Iraqis are not stepping up. She wants to being withdrawing troops within 60 days. The Iraqis need to know they don't have a blank check.

Obama: Violence has been reduced. (Gratuitous reference to Fort Hood in Killeen.) Says the whole war was a bad idea, however, and that's where he'll stick it to McCain.

8:27 p.m. Commercial break. Stencil time.

8:31 p.m. Why must all news agencies say their political coverage is the best? CNN seems to do it incessantly. (Although Sean Hannity ain't no slouch either.) I hereby declare Houstoned to be the best political coverage ever. In the whole world.

I digress... Obama is talking earmarks. He wants transparency. There are worthy projects, however.

Clinton segues into how George W. Bush wasted a serious surplus. And who do we have to thank for the surplus? Oh, yeah...

Man, the '90s were good. Except for all that flannel.

8:38 p.m. Campbell Brown: What's a moment of crisis for you?

Obama: His whole life. Or at least his youth.

Clinton: She thinks everyone here knows she's lived through some crises. But her problems are nothing compared to those of other Americans, such as those injured in war.

Touche, Hillary. You didn't answer the question, but you sure made Barack look like egotistical.

And now she's saying that no matter what happens she and Barack will be fine. Double touche!

That deserves some signage.

9:26 p.m. Just got back from the so-called Spin Room, where there were tons of political luminaries and, bizarrely enough, comedian George Lopez.

As much as I wanted to talk to Lopez (um, yeah), I went with the Houston connection. Curiously enough, the two politicos I interviewed each thought his or her preferred candidate had fared better in the debate.

U.S. Congressman Al Green gave the thumbs up to Obama, because the Senator made clear he's willing to negotiate before using the proverbial big stick. (Think Cuba.)

When asked about Clinton’s Xerox comment, Green replied, “The road to the White House is going to be the high road.”

U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, on the other hand, likes Clinton because she thinks the Senator is ready to lead in terms of national security.

As for Clinton’s remark, she said, “I don’t think there were attacks on anyone. It was simply to show distinctions. We have to be a mature electorate to be able to respect that.”

March 4, here we come. – Keith Plocek

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