Despite predictions for a Texas-style showdown Thursday night, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton funneled their hatred toward the Bush administration and emphasized the need for a Democratic takeover.
As she has done in previous debates, Clinton localized her congressional accomplishments in her opening statement by pointing out the 350,000 Texan children and 21,000 National Guard and Reserve members living in Texas that she provided with health care.
Clinton spoke of her personal attachment to Texas in mentioning Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards and her first political job registering South Texas voters.
Obama, who opted to speak second after winning a coin toss, opened with stories of a San Antonio couple who fell victim to predatory loans, an overworked student without health care, Ohio workers who have lost jobs to bad trade deals and a Wisconsin mother who lost a son in Iraq.
The crowd, comprised of approximately 400 University students, among others, was especially responsive to Clinton's call to end President Bush's "war on science" and Obama's criticism of the No Child Left Behind Law's narrow focus on standardized tests.
The candidates remained cordial until prodded by panelist John King's questioning of past times when the candidates have questioned each other's credibility or truthfulness.
Shortly afterward, the candidates hijacked the debate from moderators in contentious debate on the differences in their health care policies.
Government professor Jeffrey Tulis said polls showed that Clinton had to change perceptions, yet he thinks people did not learn anything from the debate they did not already know.
"He had more to lose, and she had to do much better than she did in order for it to be a help for her," Tulis said. "And he certainly didn't lose."
One issue new to the national Democratic debate was the implementation of a border fence in South Texas.
Clinton discussed her recent visit to UT-Brownsville, which is in danger of being bisected by a portion of the proposed fence. Both candidates voted in favor of the fence, but now believe a comprehensive immigration policy is necessary.
In terms of immigration, the legalized path to citizenship mentioned by both candidates holds hope for people in the country illegally, said LBJ School of Public Affairs Director Veronica Vargas-Stidvent. However, in not discussing a guest-worker program, she said the candidates failed to complete the picture of a comprehensive immigration reform package.
Clinton had the last word Thursday night with an emotional appeal to her contender and voters nationwide.
"Whatever happens, we're going to be fine," she said. "I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about."
Although he said commentators seem impressed with her final remarks, Tulis said the words felt like a resignation or concession.
"She made this big issue of his alleged plagiarism, which did not go very well, of course, in the debate," Tulis said. "And these final remarks of hers are pretty much lifted from the final remarks of John Edwards in a December debate."
The Clinton campaign refused comment.
© 2008 Daily Texan via U-WIRE