MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) - Just moments after the Democratic presidential debate drew to a close, Marcia Morgan struggled to declare a winner, or for that matter a loser. As the candidates signed autographs, she pondered and pondered about who won the debate as she stood in the "red zone" - prime seating near the front of the stage for undecided Democrats and Independent New Hampshire voters. Morgan tried, but for her there was no clear winner.
"I thought it was great to hear from all of the candidates," she said. "I like getting a little glimpse of everybody. There was a little glimpse of sunlight on all the candidates."
CNN spoke to several of these undeclared audience members immediately following the debate and many did walk away with stronger impressions of some of the Democratic candidates than others. Like Morgan, some did not.
Here are their thoughts:
"I was impressed with Gravel. I thought he was very good, very straightforward. Many of the other people I thought were very political, which is very frustrating and I don’t know how they are going to change their way." - Garry Morgan, Bedford
"I didn't think Edwards did well tonight. I was very open and I kind of was very interested in him, because I am a seven-year breast cancer survivor. So I think of his wife and I pray for her. But I think he was really cool and was acting a little non-chalant for this forum . I think that Biden did very well tonight. I think he came out with some very strong points and I think that Hillary did very well tonight." - Bonnie McSpiritt, Londonderry
"I thought that Hillary, Barack and Bill Richardson did the best out of the eight of them. I think that Barack of Hillary left more of an impression." - Lee Kitchen, Charlestown
"I really liked Hillary, particularly how she told Wolf Blitzer she wouldn’t engage in hypotheticals. The debate opened the field to me. I'm still listening to Hillary, Obama, and Edwards, but now I'm listening more to Biden, Richardson, and Dodd. I think there was a lack of attention to domestic issues in the debate. Edwards did a good job inserting voices of the poor and underprivileged." - Kelly Laflamme, Penacook
"The debate was helpful in terms of getting a feel for the field. I've now ruled out Gravel and Kucinich. Everyone else is in the running. I liked Obama and Hillary, based on their health care discussion. They gave thoughtful answers. Obama ignored the 'flash point' and 'hot button' issues, and was willing to call out Wolf Blitzer when he tried to bring them up. I liked that." - David Laflamme, Penacook
"The candidates were all trying to be good to each other. Obama really stood out. I like the fact that he took a solid position against the war early on. When the others went with the crowd, he didn’t. The debate reinforced my pro-Obama feelings." - Robert Treen, Merrimack
"I'm an undecided voter. Hillary was terrific. I was also impressed with Richardson. I got a kick out of Gravel. They were all good, though I was somewhat disappointed with Edwards. He offered more platitudes than anything else.” - Beth Saltzman, Bedford
"The debate was exciting, interesting. I liked the interplay among the candidates. The non-frontrunners were somewhat shortchanged in terms of time. I was leaning towards Obama before the debate. Now I’m also considering Hillary, Edwards, and Biden." - David Saltzman, Bedford
"There were no winners. Senator Gravel had some astute observations. He may not always be right, but he's sharp and interesting. The candidates are all fairly similar. It's hard to define the differences." - Larry Twitchell, Candia
"I didn't have a strong favorite before the debate, and I don't have one after the debate. Obama and Clinton, however, expressed themselves more clearly and succinctly than the others." - Jane Twitchell, Candia
And some of the audience members were able to ask the candidates a question:
Jennie LaBranch – first audience questioner.
Her husband is currently serving in Iraq. She asked: "What is your vision on ending major military operations, and how do you plan on rebuilding the military after so many years of conflict?"
Who gave the best answer? "Hillary Clinton... I’m a huge fan."
How did she feel asking the first question? "I was a little nervous. I probably sounded terrible." But "this is one of our biggest focuses as a military family."
Brian Sealander of Bedford
He asked about "the definition of rich".
Who was the winner? "Senator Obama gave the most thoughtful answers, especially to my question."
"He impressed me... he was more than what he’s characterized as... as a junior senator."
– CNN's Mark Preston, Alan Silverleib and Stephen Bach
John Edwards is arrogant and self-righteous. He sits there and judges his fellow candidates and might as well just come out and call them dishonest. Not good. He's low in the polls for a reason.
Don't like him at all after tonight.
According to the audience response and online polls, it looks like Obama and Hillary were clear winners, while Edwards struck out with his negative attacks.
I do agree with you about John Edwards' aggrogance tonight during the debate. I still prefer him over Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama though. I was a little impressed with Joe Biden's performance tonight, he seemed to come up with the "more straight-forward" answers.
Dennis Kucinich really proved himself tonight as the Democratic Party's Ron Paul. He's in the run for the office, and really has no chance of getting the nomination so he'll say whatever he wants too.
I was disappointed with Gov. Richardson's performance tonight, it just wasn't his best. He can do better and I believe that he actually does have the potential to run our wonderful country.
Just remember, It's never too late for Gore to jump in.
I was disappointed in Wolf Blitzer's tendency to allow the center-stage candidates to give long, detailed answers, as well as follow-ups, while frequently squelching Gravel, Dodd, Kucinich, and occasionally Richardson, whose opinions were frequently sought as afterthought.
Yes, Obama and Clinton are frontrunners, but America is not well served when CNN does a coronation bit - by deciding which candidates' answers are worth hearing and which are not.
Frankly, Gravel and Kucinich and Dodd had some of the most honest and enlightened answers of the night, and their presence, even if none is likely to win a pony show, enhances the quality of the discourse.
Let them talk.
I though Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden came off very strong in the debates. I still feel that Sen. Clinton comes off very inauthentic and of the rest of the candidates I was not so impressed. Fmr. Sen. Edwards did much worse than I expected of him in this debate. So far I'd say Sen. Obama is my man and Biden for VP
Obama struck me as calm and thoughtful. He seems like a President that would be respected worldwide. He didnt engage in negativity. I was seriously considering Clinton but now Im for Obama
I think Clinton and Obama offered the most, that and it seems to me they spent time actually answering the questions. But I have to admit, I was charmed by Gravels comments. He's very steak and potatoes. I don't think he has a chance in heck in this election, but the other candidates should take a page or two from his book.
It was boring actually. I would like to see the Democratic nominees differentiate themselves more from each other.
And I think that Hillary should never be sorry for supporting the Iraq war. It shows that she will flex muscle hard enough to dispel terrorism and WMD only that the intelligence gathered by Bush's CIA was downright erroneous, at worst, manufactured.
No clear winner?
Someone wasn't paying attention then because the clear winners tonight were Barack Obama and Joe Biden. I'm no "expert" but I seem to be in line with over 6,000 people who just took your on-line poll.
We don't talk. We just vote.
Here I am on CNN's website, but I really don't like how much buzz the frontrunners are getting. Richardson seems to be the candidate that I think can actually get legislation passed and get us (the United States, that is) popular in the world again, because he's not so alarmingly polarizing. I rule out Gravel and Kucinich for this reason, and surprisingly Edwards and maybe even Biden now too. To me, the candidate MUST MUST MUST bring people together so that change isn't stalled by political bickering. Richardson has this experience and he's brought much less rational people together around the world.
I cannot believe that Obama is such a frontrunner. This goes to show how the media and the buzz are starting to pick the candidates. I understand that he is progressive, and don't get me wrong, if he was the candidate I would most certainly vote for him... but 2 years in the Senate vs. some of the other resumes out there? All can admit it's a bit alarming. He didn't even have a health care plan a few weeks ago. Think about that.
If we go by resumes alone I think hands down Richardson is the best candidate; granted, Clinton is extremely qualified because spending 8 years in the White House is probably the single best thing on anyone's resume, but again, how many Republicans do you think in the House and Senate would get behind her? Biden has served for quite a while also, we should give him more credit.
I voted on the poll on this site that Kucinich knows the facts the best. He's a very smart man. However, as I was mentioning earlier, he seems to be a divider. I think Richardson is the wisest on foreign policy.
Everyone was disappointed with Richardson it seems. I personally was a bit more disappointed with Edwards. He was borderline rude tonight.
Richardson has the resume, he's well received by at least some Republicans... I really feel he deserves much more attention than he gets. The big issues are energy, genocide in Darfur, education, health care, and diplomacy, and to me he's proven himself far more than the others on all of these things. Who else would mention China's dependence on Sudan's oil? That's something you can look up in two seconds with a quick search, and maybe many know about it, but he brought it up, and that's a big deal to me.
The biggest point to me in choosing is that the candidacy needs to be given to a not-so-polarizing figure if we hope to escape this current, incredibly frustrating, age of bickering back and forth.
Hillary. Came of as a stateswoman. No risking a lot, but clear in language and prepared in her answeres.
Obama. Strong at times, but also at times very weak in his delivery. Too confusing. He was searching for his words – even if the answers were there, it took to long to get to them. The eloquence from the Democratic Convention was all gone and as such he dissapointed in a big way.
Biden was a major surprise. Clear. Strong. Heart. Meaning it all the way and being sure enough of himself to deliver that message. He should be the frontrunner next to Hillary and perhaps Richardson.
Edwards. Not enough conviction. We know he is in the right place, but he comes of as a guy afraid to speak clearly. When he shows strength it is not through straight answers, but in getting the other candidates in trouble. Not good enough. We want to hear how he will lead, which is why it was a mistake to bring up that very topic.
Richardson. A major surprise. I see the analysts are not convinced. I agree with them he was touting his resume too much and he must have gotten some really bad advice in doing that. Still its evident he knows what he is talking about. More than most of the panel. I would vote for this guy. A leader. A diplomat. What we need after all these years.
Dodd. Impressive knowledge. Impressively relaxed in the forum. Strong when he needed to. Humor when called for. Too weak on the earmarks. But a realist. It will be interesting to follow. However he is in the boat with Richardson and Biden. Same kind of candidate and between the three of them he was the weakest.
Kucinich and Gravel. The truth talkers. Both unlikely runners who will say anything. its refreshing.
I think that Joe Biden was the winner. It's upsetting that the media has already decided that it's about three candidates.
I do not think we should be thinking of this debate in terms of "winners" and "losers." Surely some of the candidates performed better than others, but what this debate was about was winning, or at least insuring more, contributions. Edwards went negative so that his comments will be shown on Prime Time over-and-over again. They may not fully resonate with the average voter, but they will with those who are die-hard enough to write a big check. Right now, we should be judging on who was able to generate the best sound bites. Those sound-bites will translate directly into contributions. For that reason, I think Edward’s flame-thrower performance, while not something recommended for primary debates, will garner him a lot more money. And, that money is going to determine whether or not any candidate will capitalize from his/her performance in this debate.
what's important here is that CNN pre decided the focus of this debate, by the positioning of the 'mainstream' and in one case(Clinton) undeclared candidates. Interesting that Wolf NEVER asked Hillary why she's still in exploration mode, instead of fully engaged. hmmmmmmmmmm..
my vote is for Peace with Dennis Kucinich