MANCHESTER, N.H. Hillary Clinton took two steps forward in the Democratic debate here Saturday night and just one step back.
So score her at plus one.
Searching for a way to attack the likability of her Democratic opponents without seeming unlikable herself, she hit on a nifty strategy: She attacked a once-likable Republican, George Bush.
"In 2000 we, unfortunately, ended up with a president who people said they wanted to have a beer with," Clinton said. "And, you know, at least I think there are the majority of Americans who think that was not the right choice."
Her second step forward was to use humor effectively.
Asked by one of the ABC moderators what she would say to voters who appreciate her experience, but "hesitate on the likability issue," Clinton put a mock-hurt expression on her face and said: "Well, that hurts my feelings. But I'll try to go on."
She got a good laugh and Barack Obama responded dryly, "You're likable enough, Hillary."
And she was. So where did she stumble?
In my opinion, it came when she used an example to prove she is just as big an agent of change as Obama or Edwards.
"I embody change," she said. "I think having the first woman president is a huge change with consequences across our country and the world."
True enough. But it invites the response: Wouldn't having the first African-American president be an even bigger change?
Clinton did not hesitate to take on Obama directly. Pointing to what she called her 35-year record, she said: "I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered."
Since Obama practically has a patent on the word "hope," that was probably aimed at him more than at Edwards.
Edwards, who pointed out that Obama had finished first in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday and he had finished second, said at another point in the debate: "I didn't hear these kind of attacks from Sen. Clinton when she was ahead. Now that she's not, we hear them."
She didn't need to attack back then, of course, and she does now.
Edwards, who started out his campaign championing the cause of the poor in America he is the founder of a poverty center barely mentioned them in the debate. Instead, he repeatedly championed "the middle class."
It is a revealing change: There are many more middle-class people than there are poor people in America. They vote more, and they have the money to contribute to political campaigns while the poor do not.
Obama did just fine, though, when he took credit for ending the ability of lobbyists buying meals for members of Congress. ABC's Charlie Gibson pointed out that lawmakers could still get free meals as long as they ate standing up.
Obama is good with words, and Clinton implied at one point that he might be a little too good.
"You know, words are not actions," she said. "As beautifully presented and passionately felt as they are, they are not action."
To which Obama responded: "Words do inspire. Don't discount that power."
The major Republican candidates for president debated the same night and had their most substantive debate.
Instead of responding to questions about evolution, the Bible and their gun collections, they seriously debated health care, foreign policy and immigration.
There were sharp exchanges and zingers, and they revealed what reporters have long known: that the other Republicans candidates loathe Mitt Romney for what they consider to be his chameleon-like qualities.
At one point, Romney said to Mike Huckabee: "Governor, don't try to characterize my position."
"Which one?" Huckabee shot back.
The best moment of the evening came between the two debates, however, when Gibson said, "I think everybody agrees what unites us as Americans is greater than what divides us."
Then all the candidates, both Republican and Democratic, stood on the stage together.
It was the best photo-op of the campaign: John McCain hugging John Edwards! Hillary Clinton talking to Rudy Giuliani! Barack Obama patting Mitt Romney on the shoulder!
It made me feel all warm and gooey inside. It made me like the candidates just like they seemed to like each other.
But don't worry: Everybody will be back to normal soon.