The other beneficiary of the debate was Dennis (the Menace) Kucinich, who showed the sharp differences between his brand of anti-war sentiment and that of the other more moderate candidates (except for former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska). Kucinich staked out the far left as his own and even directly challenged the other candidates for supporting, in effect, a longer war. Kucinich's critique will echo louder when the other candidates, predictably, cave in to Bush in voting for a clean war funding resolution after the attempt to override his veto fails. And, after Kucinich is defeated, his banner will likely be carried in the general election by that bête noire of Democrats: Ralph Nader.
This second tier in this Democratic field is unusually talented.
To have a former National Committee Chairman (Dodd), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Biden), and a former U.N. Ambassador (Richardson) in the running is unusual and it gives the field a faster pace. Since the equal time format of the debate gave them each an opportunity to show their skills to great advantage, we should expect "other" to rise in the polls and for the front running trio of Clinton, Obama and Edwards to drop down a bit.
But the central point of the debate is that Obama passed his rite of passage and made the cut. He came across as able, spontaneous, above partisanship and decent. His virtues shine in contrast to the perception of Hillary as a strident partisan and heavily scripted candidate. This contrast was obvious on Thursday night.