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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 07:32 GMT
Clinton strives to recover ground
By Matthew Price
BBC News, Texas

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, 21 February 2008
It was Obama and Clinton's second one-on-one debate

You can see why Democratic voters have a problem.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent the first half hour of this debate saying the same thing.

"This is an area where Senator Clinton and I agree," said Mr Obama. From Mrs Clinton came: "Senator Obama and I have a lot in common."

If you are an undecided voter here in Texas, after this debate you may not be much clearer on which candidate would be the better choice.

That is why this contest is coming down to a choice between personalities, rather than policies.

Foreign policy

There were some moments during the debate when one or other of the two seemed to be on the back foot.

Her line - 'Change you can Xerox' - sounded cheap
Justin Webb

Right at the start Mr Obama had to work his way out of what some might see as a change in policy on Cuba.

At times the audience reaction seemed to suggest people felt Mrs Clinton was laying out her thinking more clearly. She gave a good answer on foreign policy, pulling in recent events in Pakistan, and Kosovo.

Mr Obama though can always hit back on foreign policy - and did again tonight - talking about his voting record against the invasion of Iraq. That too drew applause.

At the start Mrs Clinton stayed positive, going out of her way to be nice to Mr Obama. When she did she seemed on top of things, confident.

Then though she slipped into negativity.

'Silly season'

Perhaps her worst moment was when she attacked her opponent on what she sees as his plagiarism of others' words during his speeches.

"This is where we start getting into silly season in politics," Mr Obama came back at her, staying above the fray. The audience responded well.

Audience members at the debate between Democratic candidates, Austin, 21 February 2008
There were memorable cheers for both candidates

There were two moments that really stick in the mind. Right at the start, when the candidates walked onto the stage, it was Mr Obama who got the biggest welcome from the crowd. As on other stages across this country, he was greeted like a superstar.

Then the other moment. Right at the end, Mrs Clinton spoke of meeting Iraq war veterans.

None of the crises and challenging moments in her life - she said - could compare to the difficulties faced by many Americans she met across the country.

It was the biggest applause of the night.

This was only the second time there had been a presidential debate with just these two candidates.

During the first one, before Super Tuesday, it was felt that Mr Obama - the relative newcomer - had to show he could compete with Mrs Clinton - the self styled candidate of experience.

He did, and it was felt emerged the "victor" for doing so.

Clinton slipping

Who won this time? Analysts on the network cable channels here are already disagreeing. Though many seem to be calling it for Mr Obama.

Personally, looking simply at the debate and not the polls outside it, I felt Mrs Clinton probably did slightly better.

Who needed to win? Mrs Clinton. She has been slipping in the polls. She had to slow Mr Obama's momentum.

Mrs Clinton's problem is that however well she did or didn't perform here tonight, outside the hall her popularity is on the wane and that of her opponent is continuing to rise.

Mr Obama needed an OK night. Mrs Clinton needed an excellent one.

Overall, they probably both managed a "good night". And in the end, some would say that makes Mr Obama the winner. Once again.



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