In the City of Brotherly Love, there wasn't much for a sister.
Hillary Rodham Clinton's rivals ganged up on her during a two-hour Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night, putting the front-runner on defense on issues ranging from Iraq and Iran to Social Security and whether she would be electable in the general election.
Gone was the Clinton who laughed off their answers and joked about how she's lucky to be getting so much attention from all these men at her age. Clinton clearly had decided she must defend herself from rivals who are right on her heels in the leadoff voting state of Iowa and who pose a real threat to her winning the Democratic nomination.
Still, she continued her strategy of avoiding direct answers to questions: She wouldn't say how she would address Social Security; she declined to pledge whether she would stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, or say whether she supports giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
Instead she tried to tried to turn every issue into an argument against President Bush. She said Bush's name 25 times, more than all six of her rivals combined.
"I think we were making progress in the 1990s and I am very proud of the progress we were making until, unfortunately, the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George Bush, and we have been living with the consequences ever since," Clinton said.
Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political science professor, said Clinton ran against Bush while her rivals ran against her.
"This may be a useful strategy for a front-runner, but it only reinforces her status as the Democratic front-runner," he said. "And her Democratic opponents may also be helping to solidify her leading position in the minds of voters by going full-throttle on the attack against her."
Among the most pointed criticisms of Clinton were about whether she represents the Democratic Party's best candidate for the general election.
"Will she be the person who brings about the change in this country?" 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards said. "You know, I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in the tooth fairy. But I don't think that's going to happen."
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama turned to Clinton and suggested she is the GOP's dream opponent. "Part of the reason that Republicans, I think, are obsessed with you, Hillary, is because that's a fight they're very comfortable having."
Chimed in Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, "Whether it's fair or not fair, the fact of the matter is that my colleague from New York, Senator Clinton, there are 50 percent of the American public that say they're not going to vote for her."
And even when New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson came to Clinton's defense, chiding his rivals for coming close to making personal attacks, it came with a twist of the knife. He criticized her for failing to pledge to bring all troops out of Iraq or end Bush's education program and for "saber-rattling" against Iran.
University of Missouri-Columbia professor Mitchell McKinney said he felt Clinton held up pretty well to the barrage of attacks, but she always has to be sensitive to her reputation for being too shrill.
"I do think there's been a few spots tonight when her advisers have been off stage or in the media center clenching their teeth that she's come perilously close to seeming too angry," he said. "But I think balancing this is the likely perception that there was a bit of piling on."
McKinney said Clinton grew testy when pressed on whether she agrees with a proposal her home state governor has to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. She first expressed support for the idea. But when Dodd objected, Clinton grew defensive and said she wasn't saying it should be done, although she recognizes why the governor is trying to do it even though she doesn't think it's "the best thing for any governor to do."
Edwards pounced. "Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes," he said. "America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them."
Obama piled on. "I can't tell whether she was for it or against it," he said. He said he supports the idea.
Obama also criticized Clinton for her refusal to release records from the National Archives about her time as first lady, even as she's running on her experience in the White House with her husband.
"We have just gone through one of the most secretive administrations in our history," Obama said, "and not releasing these records at the same time, Hillary, that you're making the claim that this is the basis for your experience, I think, is a problem."
Clinton said it wasn't her decision to keep the records sealed, even though her husband has written a letter asking that their communications be sealed until 2012.
Julian E. Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University, said the infighting in the debate could hurt the field as a whole.
"Democrats are primarily talking about negatives, not positives. They have criticized Iran, they have criticized Iraq, they have criticized the system, they have criticized each other's experience or lack of experience," he said. "There has only been limited discussion about the vision and world view that Democrats would offer in the White House."
Democratic rivals pounce on front-runner Clinton