The candidates largely stayed cordial at the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.
DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) - No slip-ups, no knockdowns, and no knockouts. That pretty sums up the last Democratic debate in Iowa before the January 3 caucuses.
"With three weeks to go, at the last debate before the caucuses, you have never seen six such agreeable people," says CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
The candidates, Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, former Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, were more or less in agreement on the economic and trade issues that dominated this debate. When they disagreed, it was over which candidate could best implement the Democratic agenda.
While it was mostly a love fest, Clinton did get in the political shot of the afternoon. The senator from New York said "everybody on this stage has an idea about how to get change. Some believe you get change by demanding it. Some believe you get it by hoping for it. I believe you get it by working hard."
That was an obvious blast at her two top rivals, Obama and Edwards, who have painted Clinton as a Washington insider incapable of implementing change. Clinton argues that her knowledge of how the system works makes her best to bring about change.
"We heard the latest iteration of Clinton's message that she's a Washington insider and an agent for change. It's been a tricky argument to make," says CNN Political Reporter Jessica Yellin, adding "She seemed upbeat and confident today and for Clinton projecting that kind of optimism is as important as what she says."
The other made-for-TV moment was a question to Obama about how he could bring about change, since he has so many Clinton administration advisors in his camp. That brought laughter from Clinton, until Obama responded, "Well, Hillary, I'm looking forward to you advising me as well."
While the debate let voters know where the candidates stand on the issues, it will probably do little to alter the state of the Democratic race here in Iowa. It's still a three-way dog fight between Clinton, Obama and Edwards for the top spot in the polls.
This debate may have been a love fest, but expect the gloves to once again come off in the remaining 21 days until the Iowa caucuses kick off the presidential primary voting.
- CNN Deputy Political Editor Paul Steinhauser