Avoided lofty rhetoric and focused on presenting himself as cool, deliberative and substantive. Well prepared and focused, he was also clearly bolstered by well-stoked confidence and what he sees as his looming, shiny victory. More than survived even thrived at times in what could be his final debate with Hillary Clinton.
Substance: Drilled down with simple, calm authority on Clinton's proposed requirement that people buy health insurance. Recited his limited Senate accomplishments in a crisper manner than he has in previous debates. And held his own on the economy the signature issue in Ohio. Still, not specific about what he would do as president on many issues.
Style: Showed pique with his rival early and often. Surprisingly un-sunny and subdued almost dour at times. But never ventured into rudeness, even when the cameras caught him in unguarded reaction shots. Didn't talk much about hope, Bush, McCain, or even Cousin Cheney.
Offense: Delivered rehearsed opposition research on Clinton's "votes and quotes" with astonishing smoothness. Per usual, never let Clinton forget her war vote or her health care failure.
Defense: Was careful to deny Clinton the upper hand in each exchange and had a ready response for everything she threw his way. Deftly changed the subject the few times he was asked hard-hitting questions by moderators Russert and Williams, who behaved as if Clinton is still the front-runner and directed most of the tough topics to her.
By Mark Halperin
Next Hillary Clinton