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Inside Politics

Analysts: Biden's performance strongest

Story Highlights

• Delaware Sen. Biden was "on fire" Democratic strategist Donna Brazile says
• Performance wasn't strong enough for Biden to gain on front-runners, analyst says
• Several observers say as front-runner, Clinton played it safe
• One analyst says some of Richardson's answers were confusing
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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Although there was no consensus on the winner of Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate, CNN analysts were largely impressed with Sen. Joe Biden and disappointed with Gov. Bill Richardson.

Democratic and Republican strategists analyzed the the New Hampshire debate along with CNN's own political team.

Biden was "on fire," Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile said. Brazile said Biden's answers set him apart from the other seven.

CNN analyst J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman, also thought the Delaware senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, performed best.

"I don't think there was anyone who broke out, with the possible exception of Joe Biden," Watts said.

Explaining his vote for a bill funding the war in Iraq that didn't contain a timetable for withdrawal, Biden stressed that Democrats did not have the necessary 67 votes to override a presidential veto of a bill with timetables.

"Look, the Republicans and this president have not told us the truth about this war from the beginning. The last thing we Democrats should do is not be telling the truth," he said. "As long as there is a single troop in Iraq that I know if I take action by funding them, I increase the prospect they will live or not be injured. I cannot and will not vote no to fund them."

Biden was especially forceful in his answers on troop funding and on the conflict in Sudan's Darfur province. He was the only candidate in Sunday's debate who said he supported military intervention in Darfur. He advocated imposing a no-fly zone over the region and sending in 2,500 NATO peacekeepers to stop the killings.

"I went there. I sat in the borders. I went in those camps. They're going to have thousands and thousands and thousands of people die. We've got to stop talking and act," Biden said of the conflict.

The Bush administration has declared the conflict "genocide."

But not all observers thought Biden gained enough ground to challenge front-runners Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

"You can see a glimpse what made him such a star 20 years ago when he was the fresh new face in the Democratic Party, before he got in trouble," said Mike Murphy, a former adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain.

Biden was running for the 1988 presidential nomination when he dropped out amid allegations he plagiarized part of his stump speech from a British politician. Despite his years of experience since then, Murphy said, Biden is still not a first-tier candidate for the 2008 election.

Several observers characterized Clinton's performance as effective, yet safe.

"She came clearly determined not to let her position on Iraq and the objection of the others get in her way," said Arianna Huffington, the editor of the Huffington Post, a liberal-leaning political blog.

"I thought it was her best performance, and if Obama and Edwards really want to take her on Iraq, they have to be much more aggressive and much more clear."

Watts said Clinton did nothing to hurt her front-runner status, but others disagreed.

"Her problem is all her non-verbal communication. She has got to learn to control that to be more effective on television," Murphy said of the former first lady.

Debate watchers largely dismissed Richardson's performance as weak.

"We kept counting how many times Gov. Richardson would remind us he was a governor, and actually walk us through his resume," Huffington said. "He had to actually be able to stand up for what he was doing right there on the stage rather than constantly presenting us with his resume."

CNN analyst Bill Schneider noted that some of Richardson's answers, particularly on immigration, were confusing.

Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer whether the new immigration bill would give amnesty to illegal immigrants, the self-described "border governor" gave a long answer that apparently didn't answer the question to the Blitzer's satisfaction.

Blitzer asked again.

"It isn't an amnesty," Richardson said of the bill, which would give legal status to about 12 million people who entered the United States illegally.

"What this bill does is it sets standards, the standards that I mentioned -- learning English, passing background checks. There is a touch-back provision."

After the debate, Richardson himself expressed some doubt about his performance, and gave it a mixed review.

"I did well. I was a little concerned I didn't get the main difference between me and the other candidates. That is, I take all the troops out (of Iraq) by the end of this calendar year, leaving no residual forces," he said.

Richardson, who was U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration, said he believes he has the most experience on issues of immigration, health care, foreign policy, and the conflict in Darfur.

Sunday's face-off at St. Anselm College was the first time the Democratic contenders have shared a stage in the Granite State, home of the nation's first presidential primary. The debate was staged by CNN, WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader.

New Hampshire voters go to the polls on January 22, 2008.


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Analysts said Sen. Joe Biden, right, delivered the best performance but were disappointed with Gov. Bill Richardson.

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