There’s not much that can be said about tonight’s Democratic debate that hasn’t been said elsewhere. My thoughts, briefly, are that for the lesser-known candidates (Webb, O’Malley, and Chaffee) the debate represents their first chance to talk to the nationwide Democratic primary electorate. If they don’t make a splash, they will never get more than a few hardcore supporters to vote for them.

For Clinton, expectations are set pretty low. All she has to do is show she’s not robotic or unpleasant and avoid making any obvious mistakes. I don’t think she has it in her to be exciting, but she might manage to look interesting and competent. If she fails at that, we will hear a lot more about Biden in the coming days.

The biggest test, I think, is for Sanders. He’s amassed legions of hardcore fans, but he has to look like a serious alternative to Clinton if he’s ever to attract anyone besides the white socialists who currently support him. He’s unlikely to do anything to lose the support of those people, but coming off as a wild-eyed lunatic could foreclose his chance of winning over any of the party’s remaining moderates.

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