Watching today's Democratic Debate, you might have thought Barack Obama was the front-runner and other candidates were desperate to bring him down. You might have thought that until you noticed Hillary Clinton's responses were largely unimpassioned and low-risk. Then you might have thought the nomination was hers to lose and the other candidates, in large part, would rather attempt to make themselves look better by stepping on Obama instead of sparring with the front-runner.
Biden, Richardson, and even Edwards (Say it isn't so!), nitpicked Obama's answers, while avoiding direct confrontation with Clinton. While Obama is perfectly capable of holding his ground in any toe-to-toe debate, the tactic of several individuals working together to belittle another can be amazingly effective, especially in public settings.
Edwards, Biden and Richardson came across as more interested in bringing down Obama than in answering questions. It is, after all, easier to point out somebody's inadequacies than propose your own solutions.
If you are competing for the nomination, why not point out the inadequacies of the front-runner? Is the nomination process really so far afield from populist democracy that before even the first vote is cast, Washington insiders know full-well who the nominee will be? It certainly seems so.
Clinton was never engaged in a full-court press. She simply held the ball, waiting for the clock to run out, while the other players scrambled to keep Obama at the other end of the court.
Dodd performed admirably, and Kucinich and Gravel used the debate as a platform to blast politics as usual, but overall, the lasting impact from today's debate is the way in which candidates who could be front-runners bowed to Clinton.