Wolf Blitzer here with CNN’s elite panel of political experts to dissect what we’ve just seen in the first of seven planned debates between Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, and his Democratic opponent, Stephen A. Douglas.

First we go to our senior analyst David Gergen who, having worked for both candidates at one time or another, is guaranteed to be—

GERGEN: Objective, which allows me to say in all fatuity that while both candidates get high grades for making their case, I think Douglas did a better job connecting with the back rows because of his—

BLITZER: Projection?

GERGEN: Exactly. I don’t know how many times I’ve told Abe he has to do something about that tinny voice—

GLORIA BORGER: I couldn’t agree more, David, but I think Lincoln’s inability to speak from the diaphragm is the least of his worries. I got the distinct impression he felt he was above it all, didn’t even want to be there.

PAUL BEGALA: Yeah, right, I mean pulling out his pocket watch in the middle of Douglas’ peroration was bad enough, but that habit of looking down at his opponent, it’s a definite no-no.

MARY MATALIN: Hey, he’s a foot taller, what do you expect? Though I have to admit, Lincoln’s body language wasn’t all his base could have hoped for. Not to mention that fuzzy reference to a house—how did he put it?

ARI FLEISCHER: A house divided against itself cannot stand. I think that’s what he said. For a moment I thought he was going to get into the housing crisis but—

CANDY CROWLEY: May I say something here? I thought the same thing, that he’d get in a personal touch about growing up in a log cabin with his mom Nancy Hanks, then splitting rails—

JOHN KING: A missed opportunity there, no doubt about it. Our focus group by a 3-to-1 margin gave Douglas the edge in likeability and having a personal narrative more like their own.

BLITZER: Fascinating stuff, John. Next, our CNN poll telling us who won, Lincoln or Douglas, after this brief station break . . .


Sound bite to remember 

“You will find out that you cannot do without politicians. They are a necessary evil. But the thing for the school people to do is that if the politicians are going to steal, make sure they steal for the schools.”

–Huey Long to the faculty of LSU, April 12, 1935