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Clinton Shines In Vegas

After a slow start bogged down by a show of unity that bordered on blather, the Democratic debate in Las Vegas managed to reveal important character traits. We learned that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., NY) wants to be the hands-on CEO, Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) prefers being an inspirational leader, and John Edwards likes the role of the fierce fighter.

When the debate turned to policy, the three Democrats agreed on most issues. But deciding who won the debate came down to critical differences to answers on three big issues: the economy, energy policy and foreign policy. On these issues Clinton asserted her knowledge on policy issues and dominated Edwards and Obama.

Economy: The Devilish Details

Edwards constantly argues he wants to fight special interests on behalf of the middle class and the poor. He certainly came through on this as a litigator when he could earn big money for himself and his client.

But his Senate record shows he voted twice for a precursor of the 2005 bankruptcy bill. He voted for it in 2001, when a version died because of a pocket veto of President Bill Clinton, and again voted in favor of it in 2002 with Bush in office.

Edwards admits: "I made a mistake in voting for the original bill." That's nice. But the bankruptcy bill favored credit card companies over the interests of Edwards' constituents -- the lower- and middle-class. If Edwards couldn't stand up in Congress, what would he do as President?

Unlike Edwards, Obama opposed the bankruptcy bill. Obama understands the difficulty it places on middle class Americans he hears from on the campaign trail -- real people losing jobs and homes -- and knows something must be done. However, Obama faces difficulty trying to relate his remedies.

Indeed, Obama said Wednesday night that he needs to surround himself with excellent staffers and that he tells his staff: "Only hand me paper when I need it or I will lose it."

Clinton has no problem delving into her policies. Not only does she understand the problems behind the economy, she also feels comfortable explaining her entire solution and providing detail on her plan to stimulate the economy. For example, she argued that her plan to freeze interest rates on subprime loans actually works in concert with the Federal Reserves policy to lower rates. This level of detail stood out.

Inconsistent Nuclear Stances

The Democrats all offer innovative energy plans that favor alternative energies over fossil fuels. Tuesday's energy discussion stood out because it focused on an issue near and dear to many in Nevada -- the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Clearly, Nevadans need to know where a candidate stands on nuclear power and nuclear waste. The words they heard from both Edwards and Obama can't have soothed them, which could have an effect on the outcome of Thursday's caucus, as Clinton's record seems far more consistent than either of the men.

Edwards voted twice to authorize Yucca Mountain as a nuclear repository while in the Senate. He has changed his tune since, and in his campaign incarnation, he now opposes both nuclear power and any unsafe nuclear storage.

Obama also faces some questions on consistency. He has disavowed lobbyist money in this campaign, but as I chronicled his vote for the 2005 Energy Bill, it showed his role in a legislative effort that capped years of work by lobbyists and Vice President Dick Cheney.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has received significant funds from Exelon (EXC - Get Report). Exelon is based in Obama's home state and has pushed hard for new subsidies for nuclear power plants. They got their wish in the 2005 Energy Bill with 29 new plants planned. Companies like Exelon would require the Yucca Mountain repository to dispose of waste.

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