PHILADELPHIA We now know something that we did not know before: When Hillary Clinton has a bad night, she really has a bad night.
In a debate against six Democratic opponents at Drexel University here Tuesday, Clinton gave the worst performance of her entire campaign.
It was not just that her answer about whether illegal immigrants should be issued driver's licenses was at best incomprehensible and at worst misleading.
It was that for two hours she dodged and weaved, parsed and stonewalled.
And when it was over, both the Barack Obama and John Edwards campaigns signaled that in the weeks ahead they intend to hammer home a simple message: Hillary Clinton does not say what she means or mean what she says.
And she gave them plenty of ammunition Tuesday night.
Asked whether she still agrees with New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, Clinton launched into a long, complicated defense of it.
But when Chris Dodd attacked the idea a moment later, Clinton quickly said: "I did not say that it should be done."
NBC's Tim Russert, one of the debate moderators, jumped in and said to her: "You told (a) New Hampshire paper that it made a lot of sense. Do you support his plan?"
"You know, Tim," Clinton replied, "this is where everybody plays 'gotcha.'"
John Edwards immediately went for the jugular. "Unless I missed something," he said, "Sen. Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes. America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them."
Barack Obama added: "I was confused [by] Sen. Clinton's answer. I can't tell whether she was for it or against it. One of the things that we have to do in this country is to be honest about the challenges that we face."
Earlier, when Clinton was asked whether she had made one statement on Social Security publicly and a conflicting answer privately, she ducked the question, saying she believed in "fiscal responsibility."
And when Russert asked her if she would make public certain communications between herself and President Clinton when she was first lady, she responded weakly: "Well, that's not my decision to make."
Perhaps just as bad was her general tone and demeanor. All of her opponents seemed passionate about one issue or another. But Clinton seemed largely emotionless and detached, often just mouthing rehearsed answers from her briefing book.
True, she was relentlessly attacked all night. But she can't claim that she was stabbed in the back. She was stabbed in the front.
"Who is honest? Who is sincere? Who has integrity?" Edwards asked and then provided the answer: Not Hillary.
"She has not been truthful and clear," Obama said at one point.
Hillary Clinton will certainly live to fight another day. She still has a huge lead in the national polls, a good staff and a ton of money.
But, in the past, Clinton could always depend on her opponents to lose these debates. All she had to do was stay above the fray to win.
Those days seem to be over.