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Debate clock watch

July 24, 2007 |  7:45 pm

As much as the CNN/YouTube debate broke new ground in stagecraft, one aspect of it paralleled previous encounters --- the higher-profile candidates continued to dominate airtime.

Chris Dodd and his aides began complaining in the spring that he and the other lower-tier presidential contenders were ignored by questioners in the first Democratic debate. For the second one --- in early June in New Hampshire --- his staff unveiled a "talk clock," which tracked to the second the speaking time for each of the eight candidates.

Barack Obama came in first (with 16 minutes, exactly, according to the Dodd count). The others to break into double digits were Hillary Rodham Clinton (14:26), John Edwards (11:42) and Bill Richardson (10:48).

Dodd finished sixth in the time ranking (with 8:28, running about half a minute behind Dennis Kucinich), and even before the forum ended his camp was crying foul. It issued a news release complaining that the race's front-runners were being allowed to hog the spotlight.

Dodd's aides started their stopwatches again Monday night, and the order for the candidates claiming the top four speaking-time slots was exactly the same: Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Richardson. Dodd, though, muscled into fifth place, running close to Richardson and increasing his time from the earlier debate by 11 seconds.

He also, as the Hartford Courant's David Lightman focused on, got the night's first question.

For many loyal Democrats, any time that Mike Gravel --- the party's resident scold --- has gotten before the cameras probably seems too long. But Gravel has not only run last both times in the Dodd clock watch, his chances to sound off decreased significantly: from 5:37 in the June face-off to 4:10 in the latest debate.

-- Don Frederick