On Tuesday next week Pennsylvania adds its voice to the gruelling (both for onlookers and participants) national debate over which Democrat steps into the ring to fight Republican John McCain for the presidency come November.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stood before the television cameras in a bid to convince voters they were the best choice for the party, but in keeping with the unofficial rules of their prolonged and indecisive contest, no clear winner has emerged. Will the result of Tuesday’s debate light a way forward for the party?

The longer the contest, the better – for Obama: The two remaining contenders for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination have held their final televised debate before Tuesday’s primary in Pennsylvania. It was a grouchy affair, dominated by mutual accusations about gaffes. Hillary Clinton made the most of her opponent’s snub to depressed small-town Americans as clinging to guns and religion in their bitterness. Barack Obama made just as much of Mrs Clinton’s false memories of coming under sniper fire in war-torn Bosnia 12 years ago. So far as the debate went, Mrs Clinton was judged to have won viewers’ minds without conquering their all-important hearts. That pretty much sums up her biggest difficulty throughout this protracted campaign. — The Independent

Obama shaken, rattled, and rolled: Just how bad was Barack Obama’s debate performance last night? Not as bad as Britney Spears’ song-and-dance routine at the MTV Awards. Not as bad as Bill Buckner’s legendary error during the ’86 World Series. Not as bad as Bob Dylan’s music during his God phase. Not as bad as John Travolta’s Scientology cinema experiment in Battlefield Earth. Not as bad as Mike Dukakis’ fateful ride in a military tank. In other words, Obama could have done worse. Neverthless, if he still harbors any hopes of driving Hillary Clinton from the Democratic race by scoring an upset victory in Pennsylvania, he might be wise to get real. — Dick Polman, Real Clear Politics

Correcting perceptions of the debate: Judging by the immediate reaction online, it appears that the commentariat came away from Wednesday night’s Democratic debate on ABC with two impressions. The first is that Obama lost the debate, and the second is that ABC News moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous asked stupid questions. Both assessments are wrong. — Stephen Spruiell, National Review Online

9.51pm: The big winner is John McCain. Then Clinton who seemed at least awake. Then Obama whose calm was nonetheless trumped by obvious exhaustion. Yes, the Clintons have shredded him. But that’s what they know how to do. It’s also what the GOP knows how to do. Obama has got to get used to this and find a way to withstand it and fight back without enabling the very cynicism it represents. That’s not easy, and we are discovering if he has it in him. Tonight he looked and felt depleted beyond measure. Which is when his supporters have to take the weight. — Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic

The critical response: Media critics may be panning Wednesday night’s Democratic debate on ABC, but the ratings today show that millions of people outside the nation’s newsrooms have an opinion of how Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos performed last night…The first hour of Wednesday’s debate ranked first in its time period among Total Viewers, Adults 18-49 and Adults 25-54. Up against Fox’s “American Idol” and an original episode of CBS’ “Criminal Minds” at 9 p.m., the debate retained 96% of it Total Viewing audience, retained 100% of its Adults 25-54 audience, and grew 4% among Adults 18-49 from the first hour to the second hour. …Still, the high ratings don’t appear to be helping the network’s reputation among the critics. HuffPost has received a huge response from bloggers about the debate. The majority are negative. – The Huffington Post

Who speaks for the working class? There are many ways to define this slice of the population, but the one that makes the most sense in political terms is to think of it broadly as those white Americans who lack a college degree. Once the Democratic stalwarts whose sense of economic self-interest sustained Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition, working-class whites were the patriotic, the churchgoers–and, yes, many of them were hunters–who began to drift from the Democratic Party in the turbulent 1960s and later became the margin of victory for Ronald Reagan. They have never fully returned to the Democratic fold and as a result have become less and less of a factor in its primary politics. – Karen Tumulty, Time