CBS ‘Early Show’: Hillary Returns as ‘Sure-Footed Front-Runner’

The lead story on Friday’s CBS "Early Show" focused on the Democratic debate and celebrated Hillary Clinton’s comeback as co-host Harry Smith exclaimed: "This morning, Hillary's camp declares a landslide as the Dems sling mud, exchange barbs, in the feistiest debate yet." The segment began with a report by CBS White House Correspondent, Jim Axelrod, who described how, "Hillary Clinton's two top rivals didn't waste any time attacking her...[she] looked confident, taking the attacks in stride." Axelrod later concluded his report by declaring that:

Her performance at this debate makes her prior stumble look like an isolated event. The story line now goes back to Hillary the sure-footed front-runner, where it will stay. At least for now.

As if Axelrod’s glowing analysis of Clinton’s performance was not enough, Smith and "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer offered their own thoughts on the debate. Smith began by praising Clinton’s wit, "I'll tell you what, the one line I want to play this real quickly, very early on Hillary Clinton comes out on the stage and delivers this one about having an asbestos pant suit, that may go down in political annals as one of the great lines of all time." Smith followed by asking Schieffer, "I'll tell you, she came out ready for whatever was coming at her, it seemed like, right?" Schieffer responded, ""Oh I think so" and then shared his favorite Hillary line of the night for the "political annals":

I think in a way this was Hillary Clinton's night. She kind of got things back on track after really an awful performance in the previous debate. I thought her best line of the evening, though, was when she said 'they're not attacking me because I'm a woman, they're attacking me because I'm ahead.' Which, of course, is absolutely right. And she kind of put a couple of things at rest there. I thought she had a pretty good night.

As if to prove Clinton’s inevitability as the Democratic nominee, Smith went on to mention how "...when John Edwards or when Barack Obama started to come, you know, sort of brushing against Senator Clinton, the place actually broke out in boos a couple of times." However, even Schieffer knew to dismiss such crowd reaction as proof of anything, "Well, I don't think you can put too much stock in that...these are all partisans towards one candidate or another in there."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: This morning, Hillary's camp declares a landslide as the Dems sling mud, exchange barbs, in the feistiest debate yet.

HILLARY CLINTON: People are not attacking me because I'm a woman. They're attacking me because I'm ahead.

7:02AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: "First we want to turn to the fiery Democratic debate last night in Las Vegas. CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

JIM AXELROD: Hillary Clinton's two top rivals didn't waste any time attacking her.

BARACK OBAMA: What the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions. And that is not what we've seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues.

JOHN EDWARDS: She says she will bring change to Washington. While she continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged, and is corrupt.

AXELROD: But if they sensed vulnerability after her shaky performance at the last debate, she quickly established this was a different night. Hitting back forcefully.

HILLARY CLINTON: I don't mind taking hits on my record, on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, a least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican play book.

AXELROD: With the Iowa Caucuses now seven weeks away, the race is neck and neck there. The tightening race means a sharper tone. Take Obama on Clinton's social security plan.

OBAMA: This is the kind of thing that I would expect from Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani where we start playing with numbers -- we start playing with numbers in order to try to make a point.

AXELROD: But last night Hillary Clinton looked confident, taking the attacks in stride.

CLINTON: And I understand very well that people are not attacking me because I'm a woman. They're attacking me because I'm ahead. And I understand --

AXELROD: Her performance at this debate makes her prior stumble look like an isolated event. The story line now goes back to Hillary the sure-footed front-runner, where it will stay. At least for now. Jim Axelrod, CBS News, Las Vegas.

SMITH: Joining us now from Washington is CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent and host of Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer. Good morning Bob. I'll tell you what, the one line I want to play this real quickly, very early on Hillary Clinton comes out on the stage and delivers this one about having an asbestos pant suit, that may go down in political annals as one of the great lines of all time. Let's take a listen.

CLINTON: I am happy to be here tonight. And this pant suit is asbestos tonight.

SMITH: I'll tell you, she came out ready for whatever was coming at her, it seemed like, right?

BOB SCHIEFFER: Oh I think so and I'll tell you something else, if she does get the nomination, Harry, you're going to see in a lot of Republican ads come the fall some of those comments from John Edwards and Barack Obama. Because the Republicans are going to play back that over and over again. I think in a way this was Hillary Clinton's night. She kind of got things back on track after really an awful performance in the previous debate. I thought her best line of the evening, though, was when she said 'they're not attacking me because I'm a woman, they're attacking me because I'm ahead.' Which, of course, is absolutely right. And she kind of put a couple of things at rest there. I thought she had a pretty good night.

SMITH: How interesting was it, though -- because it was a very vocal crowd. They were into a lot of what was going on. But when John Edwards or when Barack Obama started to come, you know, sort of brushing against Senator Clinton, the place actually broke out in boos a couple of times.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't think you can put too much stock in that. After all, this was an audience where the Democratic candidates all get a certain number of seats. I think that's generally the way that works. And these are all partisans towards one candidate or another in there. So, I don't put too much into that. But I think all of these candidates have to be very, very careful attacking one another and how they go about it because the Iowa voters, very much resented Dick Gephardt attacking Howard Dean in 2004. It was Kerry and Edwards who benefitted from that. But Gephardt fell by the wayside with Dean. Sometimes these things hurt the attacker as much as the person being attacked.

SMITH: You know, everybody's been talking the last two weeks about Hillary Clinton's vulnerabilities and how Barack Obama seemed to be coming out of the gate and bursting out. Did he win any new friends last night? Did -- was he especially impressive at any particular juncture?

SCHIEFFER: Well, he has become very, very aggressive, but, I mean, you know, he gave as good as he got last night. It's hard to judge because you don't know what the impact is on the voters out in Iowa. But it seems to me that if Senator Obama does not win in Iowa, it's going to be very difficult for him to go on from there. Hillary Clinton has the money and organization. She could afford to lose Iowa. I think she's the only Democrat that really could afford to lose one of these very early primaries and still go on. The others, it's absolutely crucial, and you're seeing that in these attacks they're making.

SMITH: There you go, Bob Schieffer, thanks so much. Do appreciate it.

SCHIEFFER: You bet.

SMITH: Alright.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC