8:50 p.m. | Letting It All Out This has turned into a major confrontation, an unspooling of the months of oppo research done by each campaign, and it is hard to see how Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton ever patch this up.

For those of you who ever thought that one of them would choose the other as his or her V.P., it’s time to recalculate.

One possible lesson: Don’t get into a fight with the Clintons. As Mrs. Clinton said during her back and forth with Mr. Obama, she knows how to take the incoming. She’s taken it for 16 years. For better or worse, Mr. Obama was less comfortable on the attack.

8:49 p.m. | Edwards Steps In Mr. Edwards is assuming the role of honest broker here, suggesting he’s out of the game himself. But he but presses Mr. Obama on why he voted “present” so many times in the Illinois legislature. Mr. Obama says most of these votes didn’t have political consequences.

8:47 p.m. | Responsiblity The bankruptcy bill is now their vehicle for making accusations against each other. And Mrs. Clinton accuses Mr. Obama of doing the bidding of the insurance companies on health care.

“It is very difficult having a straight up debate with you because you never take responsibility,” she says, drawing huge boos from the audience for the first time. He suggests she will do anything to get elected.

8:39 p.m. | Rumble They are unloading everything they’ve kept under wraps so far. Hmm, think there’s a lot at stake here?

We need to get the transcript here, but it seems that Mrs. Clinton was careful to point to Mr. Obama’s comments about Republicans, as opposed to Ronald Reagan. But he says she referred to his comments about President Reagan. Mr. Obama says he said that Reagan had been able to get Democrats to vote against their economic interests (which isn’t exactly what he had said).

Mr. Obama then slams her with a remark he seems to have been saving for a while: while he was an organizer in the hood, he says, she was a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart. Mrs. Clinton brings up Antoin Rezko for the first time, a Chicago businessman who has pleaded not guilty to federal influence-peddling and bank fraud charges. Mr. Rezko has raised money for Mr. Obama over the years. Mr. Obama’s campaign said yesterday it is giving charity more than $40,000 in past political contributions tied to Mr. Rezko.

A lot more squabbling back and forth. She defends her husband. And when Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, tries to get the conversation back on the rails, she says, “We’re just getting warmed up.”
If you missed this exchange, be prepared to see it hundreds of times between now and November.

Democratic Debate(Photo: Matt Campbell/European Pressphoto Agency)

8:30 p.m. | It’s On Mr. Obama is REALLY irritated about “a set of assertions made by Senator Clinton as well as her husband that are not factually accurate.”

Mrs. Clinton hits back hard, probably the hardest she has in these debates throughout this campaign. She says records and words matter. As soon as Mr. Obama is confronted on his record, she says, “he says that’s not what he meant.”

She bring up his recent comments about Republicans and said he had said he “really liked” their ideas (which isn’t exactly what he had said).

This whole thing suddenly spins out of control. This is a slugfest that is spiraling downward fast. Mr. Edwards is finally allowed to jump in, reminding everyone that there are three candidates on the stage, not two.

We’ll recap as soon as we can.

8:20 p.m. | More Mill Mr. Edwards’s father is actually in the audience, and the candidate gets some mileage out of his personal story. Mr. Obama credits Mr. Edwards for his “powerful story.”

8:16 p.m. | Money Money Money The first question is about the economy and how much money each candidate’s plan would put in the pockets of the average taxpayer. Mrs. Clinton seems relieved that it is not about her husband. “We will have money for rebates,” she says, without specifying how much. Mr. Obama takes the opportunity for a mild swipe at Mrs. Clinton, saying he’s glad she’s talking about rebates because that was not part of her original plan. Mr. Edwards focuses on long-term solutions and mentions creating jobs in South Carolina, but Mr. Obama beat him to bringing up the mills, (where, he notes, Mr. Edwards’s father worked, in case you hadn’t heard.)

Democratic Debate(Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

8:04 p.m. | Say Cheese CNN likes to show viewers the photo-op before the debate. The CNN suits have told us that they think this format is more welcoming to viewers, so they don’t feel like they’re coming in the middle of a discussion.

8:01 p.m. | Bring ‘Em Out Oh boy, back with the walk-on entrances of the candidates, one by one. No bounce in their step tonight.

7:59 p.m. | Live From the Palace Hi everybody. Well, as if the Democratic candidates haven’t seen enough of each other lately, they’re getting ready for another debate tonight, at the Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach. We’re nearby in Charleston, where we’re thankful that the TV is inside. It’s freezing outside.

Given the tensions of the last several days, and given that the debate is co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, and given that today is Martin Luther King’s birthday … do you think issues of race will come up?

Viewers were annoyed during the last Democratic debate when the moderators kept asking questions about race. But somehow, this seems unavoidable tonight.

Another big question tonight: Will Bill Clinton actually be at the table? Or just in the air? We’ll see. Tune in to CNN for the two-hour debate and watch along with us.