William Saletan on tonight's debate ("A field goal for Kerry, a touchdown for Dean.")
Howard Dean's performance was near-perfect. Strategically, Dean is way ahead of the pack. He has fulfilled the affirmative part of the campaign: giving people enough reasons to vote for him. Now he has the luxury of focusing on the negative part: dispelling the reasons to vote against him. Accordingly, his preparation for the last two debates seems to have focused on acting presidential and conveying competence in military and foreign policy. Tonight he accomplished both. He was at ease and in command. Rectifying his performance in Albuquerque, he projected confidence without constipation.
Dean is trying to demonstrate that his front-runner status is not just a freak event or a passing fad. In order to do this he has to win over the "but is he serious" crowd. Some Deaniacs may not like this because they like the firey-Dean much more than the sober-Dean. But the sober-Dean will need to appear as much as the firey-Dean in the coming months if he is to win over the broad coalition he will need to defeat Bush.
Deaniacs need not worry though. The firey-Dean is still there and ready to come out when needed.