Live Blogging the McCain-Obama debate

9:00.  There are two wildcards in any debate:  the questions the moderator asks, and how the media interprets the answers.  In some cases those can be more important than the actual answers of the candidates.  Jim Lehrer is typically an understated moderater with a very loose management style which may matter given the unusual format that allows a lot of give an take.

We’ll be watching the NBC version (no cable in Ripton.)

9:08.  Well, we won’t have to wait to see if the trap is set….so far Obama is playing his part.

Ok – it’s there for McCain to pounce – will he spring it?

9:10  Well, he didn’t spring a trap, but he didn’t not spring it either.

9:13.  Obama’s response was straightforward and effective. McCain is not doing enough to differentiate himself on this – he’s echoing Obama.  He needs to be much much more aggressive.

(The first “age” reference preempt by McCain…)

9:17.   It’s clear that McCain has decided to opt to appear above partisan politics – it’s not, in my view, the strategy he should use tonight.

9:22 – Obama – contrary to reputation – is getting right to the point, and as expected, tying McCain to Bush.

9:23 – Finally, McCain responds aggressively (ignore that senior moment – who was the senior Republican?  Never mind…)

9:25 – Interesting that Obama calls McCain “John”

9:27 Very effective Obama response on loopholes to counteract McCain on the Ireland-U.S. comparison.  A weaker response from McCain.  He’s not coming across quite as sharp as Obama…

9:31 – Jack Goodman points out that McCain is not wearing the flag lapel, but Obama is!

9:32 – McCain just wrote off Iowa …but otherwise this is his most effective answer of the night. Specifics and the first reference to Obama’s voting record.

9:37 Obama just created an opening by hinting at bringing troops home, and McCain missed it, instead moving to the energy issue.  He should have saved this for later, and jumped on Obama’s opening.

9:40 – McCain trots out the health care difference, but again it’s not in the flow of the argument.  He’s seems to be debating by handing out talking points, rather than addressing Obama’s argument.

9:43 – Finally, McCain has an effective answer (although it didn’t address the budget).  and the first Palin reference.  And now Iraq – McCain has to score and score big here….

9:45 – Well, just boilerplate – he had to put Obama on the defensive, and he didn’t and that gives Obama the chance to switch the debate to how the war started.

9:46 – If McCain can’t win this debate….

9:47.  Finally, McCain shoots and scores!  Good segment for McCain

9:49  McCain is winning this segment – Obama should move on, and quickly.  Saying it’s not his committee?  Not good.  And you can tell McCain is passionate about this topic.  He speaks off script here, and it’s far more effective than his talking points.   Obama is on the defensive…..

9:50  Obama is not helping himself here. Move on…

9:54  McCain is on the brink of turning this debate around.  Obama needs to end this.

9:56 Jesse is right here – Obama needs to stop debating why the war started.  And attacking Karzi?  What?

9:58.  McCain is just so much better here – he’s more confident, because he speaks from experience, not talking points.  You can see that Obama is well read, but not well versed in this.  Is the public picking up on this, and will it matter?

9:59 – Obama had a nice response going until he went cute with the songs comment. Wrong topic to go cute on.

10:00 – McCain is scoring, and scoring big.  Obama suddenly is looking very very young.

10:03 – First New Hampshire reference (btw – it’s a battleground state!)

10:05 – Dueling bracelets!  Obama is getting a little long-winded here.  McCain will not let him off the hook on Iraq and the surge.   How many times has McCain prefaced his response to Obama by saying “What Senator Obama doesn’t understand”?  Very effective….

10:10 – McCain remains on the offensive.  But Obama counters nicely on the preconditions point.  Still, McCain is poised to pounce.  Obama is scoring debating points, but still comes across as making points in debate school, while missing the bigger picture that McCain is trying to paint here: Obama talks the talk, but hasn’t walked the walk.

Here’s the “Obama doesn’t understand” comment again!  That’s 5, by my count….

Suddenly it’s “Senator McCain” – things are turning frosty.

McCain’s viagra has kicked in!

10:22. Can you say “Noose Lukes?” three times fast?  I didn’t think so.

10:22  Now Obama’s “naive” as well as not “understanding”!    Nice line about three letters in Putin’s eye….

Very nice move here by McCain to bring the Georgian conflict into the discussion.  He’s schooling Obama again on this issue….

Obama’s response: “What he said”….not all that effective.

10:26  Nice move by Obama to tie energy into security. Let’s see how McCain parries….

10:30: 9-11 Question: McCain should hit this out of the park.  Obama wasn’t in office.  Obama – is he in favor of missile defense?  Or not?  Again, not very crisp here…

10:37 Obama is smart to pick up on our  loss of international standing. Unfortunately, this gives McCain a chance to separate himself from Bush  on Geneva, Guantanamo?  Will he take advantage?

makes that 6 times = “obama doesn’t understand… doesn’t get it”….  McCain instead goes back to attacking the Obama timetable….nice closing rhetorical phrase which he will undoubtedly come back to in the closing statement.

10:37 Nice response here by Obama to bring in spending on veterans…

10:38  OK.  The cards on the table.  Ouch!  Obama as Bush!  Both stubborn, both wrong on Iraq!  Very very nicely done…..and an effective parry to the Obama veterans comments.

Obama needs to respond to this.  He must have expected it.

Nice twist by Obama to turn it back to America’s image abroad.

And now the spin begins!

Obama clearly was in control early as the topic focused on the economy.  Obama was sharper, and McCain looked hesitant and overly rehearsed.  But as the night went on, McCain got stronger and appeared poised, passionate and more informed.  That was largely because this was a debate on McCain’s turf.

But how will the media spin it?  and will it move the public appreciably?  My guess is after the shaky start, McCain did nothing to lessen the uncertainty among some about Obama’s preparation to commander in chief.   If anyone was helped in this, I think McCain was.  But history suggests that the impact of a single debate is generally transient.  Will this be the same?

Ok what were your views?

Post-debate:  Nice move here by Obama camp to immediately bring Biden on board for damage control and follow up (he’s on NBC now – and now on CBS.  Where’s Palin?)

Ok, I’m signing off. My gut tells me this will not be a game changer, but instead will fit quite well with the historical pattern that shows very little impact of the debates on support for either candidate. But I am curious whether the audience will top the 80 million that watched the Reagan-Carter 1980 debate the biggest audience for a presidential debate so far.

11:30 Afterword

In the end, I think this debate will do little to change the historical pattern in which debates have almost no impact on the outcome of the presidential race.  McCain probably did slightly better in terms of demonstrating more knowledge about the issues, but it was a debate on his turf, so this is no surprise. Obama may have demonstrated less experience, but he made no gaffes and generally came across as someone conversant in foreign policy issues.  If he did not convince anyone that he was more qualified than McCain to lead this nation in the war on terror, he didn’t disqualify himself either.

In the bigger picture, however, Obama wins because McCain did nothing to change the underlying fundamentals of this race.  He had an opportunity to differentiate himself from Obama on the bailout plan, and he passed it up.  As a result, my guess is the debate did little to change the dynamics of this race, and that means Obama wins.  Had McCain rolled the dice, as he did with Palin, there was a chance that he might have changed the dynamics driving this race.  He chose to not to do so, and thus lost one of the few remaining opportunities he will have to change the narrative of this race.   If he won the battle tonight, he most assuredly did not win the war.

That’s my reaction tonight. We’ll see how the media spins this tomorrow, and how the public reacts to that spin.

Meanwhile, it’s on to the Vice Presidential debate.   Will Palin wear lipstick?  Will Biden remind us how FDR went on television in 1929 during the stock market crash?

It doesn’t get any better than this….


  1. 9:14 – McCain’s missed a few opportunities now to say I disagree with Obama and differentiate himself.

    Now he says spending is out of control, but has not addressed the unpopular price tag of the recovery bill.

  2. Is there a stronger way for John McCain to show that he is against spending than for him to come out against the bail out? Obama’s hitting all the points about the middle class and main street and tying McCain to Bush. McCain seems ineffective. Comparing business taxes in other countries is off message it seems.

  3. McCain looks a little less prepared and not as awake… too much scotch (Did Palin’s baby share) or too many years?

  4. McCain is letting Obama make his standard stump speech, and McCain’s reply is to cut spending. And there are $700 billion on the table from his buddy, W?

  5. Leher is scoring more points than either of these cautious candidates. I don’t see a maverick or an elitist so far

  6. Leher is very frustrated: the bell rang a half hour ago and the combatants are still lacing up their gloves

  7. Now the surge finally. “We are winning” – McCain. Talks about consequences of defeat and says that we will come home. Obama goes right back to opposing the war in the first place. At this point, that no longer seems like an argument that helps him. He wants to turn the debate to judgment, but needs to address current and future judgment.

  8. Immediately, the post debate coverage (on CNN) focuses on how much time was spent on the economy. This seems to favor Obama. They are arguing that Obama held his own on foreign policy issues, possibly winning the expectations game, if not on the issues themselves.

  9. Each had their strong points. For.policy is more than iraq and it seems like obama highlighted it. Mccain got the points on specifics though

  10. On Iran, Obama missed an easy chance to prove his credintials are more relavant to today’s foreign policy questions:

    McCain called the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Iranian ‘Republican Guard.’ From what I know, the Republican Guard was Saddam Hussein’s. To be sure, I looked up the Kyle-Lieberman ammendment to the ‘H.R. 1585: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008’ and there it is rightly specified as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

    By correcting McCain, Obama could have highlighted McCain’s previous failures in distinguishing Iran and Iraq related themes. Instead, he also called them the ‘Iranian Republican Guard.’

  11. I saw it as a draw, which equals an Obama win, as he was assumed to be so much weaker on foreign policy than McCain. McCain was trying to paint Obama as naive & ignorant, which Obama never seemed (even if he has fewer stamps in his passport) as he’s simply too smart and articulate.

    Speaking of naive and ignorant, I’m looking forward to the VP debate…

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