Will first debate be Obama's historic moment?

Posted: Apr 24, 2007 2:30 PM

Every presidential campaign has one -- a defining moment that cements a candidate’s image in the minds of voters.

Most famously was the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate, when JFK’s youthful appearance and Richard Nixon’s flop sweat pushed the young Massachusetts senator over the top.

Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan buried Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid when the former actor looked into the camera lens and asked Americans if they were better off than they were four years earlier.

And 20 years after that debate, Al Gore damaged his White House campaign by sighing, whining and crowding in on George W. Bush. These were all surely defining moments because Saturday Night Live had such a great time mocking Gore after those debate missteps. (Remember “Lockbox”?)

This week, the American people (and SNL writers) will be watching the Democratic debate on MSNBC, all looking for those moments that will define the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. More importantly, they will see how Obama compares next to Hillary—a woman every bit as experienced as the young senator is green. If he is to prove he belongs in the senator's league, he better do well Thursday night in South Carolina.

If Obama fails his first big test, expect MSNBC’s debate to provide another one of those historic moments that define the future of this presidential campaign.