Wednesday night, there were actually four on stage at the Reagan Library in the CNN televised Republican presidential debate, but you’d never know that Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul were actually there, and still in the race.

Front-runners John McCain and Mitt Romney attacked each
other’s conservative credentials as they fought for their party’s top
spot during the final showdown before the Super Tuesday contests.

The sharpest exchange in the debate came when Romney, the former
governor of Massachusetts, was asked about the McCain campaign’s charge
that he once said he favored a strict timetable for removing troops
from Iraq.

Romney has consistently denied ever having backed a timetable and
said McCain was taking a small portion of a quote out of context.

“It’s simply wrong,” Romney said. “By the way, raising it a few days
before the Florida primary, when there was very little time for me to
correct the record, falls in the kind of dirty tricks that Ronald
Reagan would have found reprehensible.”

Actually, it was uncomfortable to watch, as all these debates have
been lately with extraordinarily sharp sniping between candidates of
the same party. Both parties.

In this case, it was also baffling why Sen. John McCain was so
aggressive and ’snarky’ (as some put it) with Gov. Mitt Romney when
McCain was enjoying the crest of a new wave of popularity and success.
I wasn’t alone in that reaction…..’insta pollsters’ put up the graphs
right afterward to show that the audience holding the meters reacted
negatively to McCain’s attacks on Romney. Why, the day after that
Florida victory, did McCain go on the attack?

The back-and-forth between McCain and Romney threatened to dominate the evening. 

No, it did dominate the evening.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said the
heated exchange over Romney’s Iraq quote was one of the debate’s key
moments — and may have favored Romney.

“Romney made a very, very eloquent defense of himself that had some
outrage in it,” said Schneider. “I do not think McCain looked good in
that exchange.”

He certainly didn’t look presidential.

And on the Democrats’ side…

For almost two hours, Obama and Clinton examined their
differences on the Iraq war, health care, immigration and governing
style, with Clinton emphasizing her lengthy resume and experience and
Obama challenging her about judgment and the ability to inspire the
country.

“It is imperative that we have a president, starting on Day One, who
can begin to solve our problems, tackle these challenges and seize the
opportunities that I think await,” Clinton said.

“Senator Clinton, I think, fairly has claimed that she’s got the
experience on Day One,” Obama later replied. “And part of the argument
that I’m making in this campaign is that it is important to be right on
Day One.”

It’s interesting that WaPo capitalized ‘Day One’. That’s elevating it as an election term. Like….’Change’.

Image: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama

Photo by Chris Carlson/AP

Here’s some potential change…in plans….that people have wondered about lately.

The longest and loudest applause line of the night came
when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer noted that many Democrats have said they’d like
to see a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket in November.

Neither ruled out the possibility of selecting the other as a running mate.

There it is. Deep in the CNN story, mentioned in passing. Remember that.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....