Hillary Clinton: one part Susan B. Anthony, one part Carly Simon and one part Joe McCarthy

Hillary Clinton: one part Susan B. Anthony, one part Carly Simon and one part Joe McCarthy

In the aftermath of what was, by just about anybody’s estimation, a rout of Barack Obama in Wednesday night’s primary debate, Hillary Clinton moved to the horsey hills of Philadelphia college country to conduct a town hall in front of an adoring crowd at Haverford College (the oldest college of Quaker origin in the United States—who knew?). Hillary kicked back in front of a mostly female audience, sharing a stage with her mother and daughter and, for the better part of 90 minutes, conducted a sisterly love-in whose subtext was “Sisters, we certainly kicked some ass last night.”

There were shout-outs to attendees from nearby Bryn Mawr (“I attended a Seven Sisters school and am very proud of that,” Hillary reported to squeals of delight), working moms (one of whom, with a toddler clinging to her neck for dear life, introduced Chelsea), victims of breast cancer and a host of other distaff causes and avatars.

And for all the skepticism and jaundice that any group of two or more journos can muster, fact is it was a bravura performance. Hillary at her best is lightly self-mocking and earnestly human in a way that Obama—with all that FM cool and studied nonchalance—can’t match. Asked by a sincere-sounding canvasser what he might say to prospective voters at the door, Hillary offered, with Carsonesque timing, “Just knock on the door and say she’s really nice, or at least she’s not as bad as you think.” Ba dum bang sh!

After finishing up the formal proceedings, Hillary hung out in the hall for photos, then joined her daughter to greet a throng who’d watched the event on a huge portable screen set up on the grassy quad. The crowd swooned and swayed. Cameras flashed non-stop as the Clintons worked the rope line, leaving small groups gathering to examine the digital results in their wake.

Still, for all the sisterly warmth there’s this other not insubstantial issue: the elephant that came further into the room after the Philly debate. Hillary Clinton knows how to play dirty. The innuendo she made during the debate somehow linked Obama to unsavoury elements: Hamas, anti-Americanism (remember the lapel pin?) and even treason (the Weathermen). These sly digs were all aimed at reinforcing the impression that beneath Obama’s Harvard Yard condescension toward guns and God is something sinister and un-American. Watching Clinton own that room at Haverford reminded me that, at the end of the day, she’s one part Susan B. Anthony, one part Carly Simon and one part Joe McCarthy.

And don’t think the media missed it, either. At a post-debate post-mortem in the bar at the Marriott, a group from ABC News reported with considerable pleasure that Obama’s overnight negatives—along with the ratings for the debate—were going through the roof. Hillary is giving them what they needed most: wedge issues and a horse race.

• “She’s not as bad as you think” [Salon]• Clinton aims Phila. talk straight at working people [Philadelphia Inquirer] • Clinton on Colbert Report (And Edwards and Obama, Too) [New York Times]• Superdelegates Unswayed by Clinton’s Attacks [New York Times]• How Obama Fell to Earth [New York Times]