The only thing that really stands out about the debate in Hollywood between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is that the softball questions and heavy focus on their strongest policy issues simply provided a long free ad for both candidates.
And while it's pleasant to watch, it can't be good for Obama, because tonight's debate, unless something very big happens before it is over, means that none of the voters who have already decided are going to switch from Hillary to him. And he needs some huge switching in California and several other major states if he's to catch Clinton.
Predictably, both candidates are much smoother now in this, the seventeenth debate. But that leaves you praying for a moment that isn't utterly canned. Take it as a near certainty that a Clinton speechwriter or aide many days ago wrote Hillary's great line, “It did take a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush – and I think it might take a Clinton to clean up after the second Bush!” It earned her huge applause, plus she does herself a great favor when she laughs. But oh so canned.
And earlier, Obama got off some funny lines that will help the undecided voters warm to him – but his likable and chatty style simply serves to remind that the two candidates have so few real policy differences that this is little more than a contest of personalities, unless something amazing is said, or happens, before Super Duper Tuesday.
Aside from Wolf Blitzer's usual snarkiness and desperate attempts to get a controversy going with his questioning, the debate is cheery and fact-filled and pragmatic, and as a result it's a bore. It's slightly more interesting when CNN goes to the break, and the cameras rove across the famous faces of Diane Keaton, Pierce Brosnan – and hugely fat Rob Reiner, almost unrecognizable.
You're left wishing one of the TV or film stars will scowl horribly or hold up a tiny concealed sign for their choice for president. The most embarrassing moment so far has not been due to any hijinks by the media or the candidates, but from this VIP-filled audience: At about 5:50 pm, as CNN went to a break, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa saw a camera lens point his way and quickly stood up from his chair and slapped on that mechanical grin of his, thus grabbing his latest 15 minutes of fame.