Sweet Column: Obama says he was a “little nervous” at Dem debate.

SHARE Sweet Column: Obama says he was a “little nervous” at Dem debate.
SHARE Sweet Column: Obama says he was a “little nervous” at Dem debate.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), known for his soaring rhetoric, stumbled during the first Democratic debate Thursday at South Carolina State University.

“Last night I was a little nervous,” Obama said at a rally in Charleston on Friday, where he filled the gym at Burke High School.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), known for his soaring rhetoric, stumbled during the first Democratic debate Thursday at South Carolina State University.

“Last night I was a little nervous,” Obama said at a rally in Charleston on Friday, where he filled the gym at Burke High School.

Constrained by a 60-second limit for replies that worked against Obama’s speaking style — a very long windup to the pitch — his tendency to generalize meant he did not directly answer some questions. Even when asked something noncontroversial, what he personally did to improve the environment, he said 3,000 campaign volunteers planted trees on Earth Day. With a prod from moderator Brian Williams, the NBC anchor, Obama added he’s “been working” to install energy efficient light bulbs at home. He sounded out of touch.

Some examples:

Obama failed to cast himself as a forceful commander in chief.

Obama was asked how he would “change the U.S. military stance overseas” if two U.S. cities were attacked by al-Qaida. After a reference to the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, he said “review how we operate in the event of not only a natural disaster, but also a terrorist attack.”

Contrast that with the reply from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) — her best during the 90-minute debate. “Retaliate,” she said. “Focus on those who have attacked us and do everything we can to destroy them.”

Obama knew he blew it because a few minutes later he added “enemies” of the U.S. “have to be hunted down.”

Obama did not use an opening he had to reassure Jewish voters about Israel.

On Tuesday, Obama spoke to the National Jewish Democratic Council in Washington. “My commitment to you is unwavering,” he told them. Obama heavily courts wealthy Jewish donors and some have questions about his Muslim ties. His campaign produced a 29-page “American-Israeli Relationship Issue Packet” on his views that an Obama staff fund-raiser was handing out at the NJDC conference.

The Rezko connection

Asked at the debate to name America’s three most important allies, Obama said the European Union, NATO and Japan. He added Israel at Williams’ prodding, a lapse that could hurt him with Jewish voters.

Obama’s debate claim that the Iraq war could end with “one signature” from President Bush or “16 votes,” referring only to the Senate, is wrong.

Bush’s expected veto of the Iraq War funding bill — with timelines for troop withdrawals, can only be overridden by supermajorities in the Senate and the House.

Referring to Monday’s Sun-Times story, Williams asked Obama about his “questionable ties” to slumlord Tony Rezko. Obama replied that while a state senator, “The first bill I ever passed was campaign finance reform legislation.” He’s wrong. It was not his first bill.

Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney reports that as a chief co-sponsor, Obama played an important role in passing that legislation May 22, 1998. Obama’s first bill passed on his own in the state Senate required the state’s community colleges to publish a directory of students with vocational and technical skills. That bill passed the Senate unanimously on March 13, 1997, and was signed by former Gov. Jim Edgar on Aug. 22, 1997.

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