live blogging the 3rd debate

Late start — sorry!

great format – this is the best exchange we’ve had so far.

btw, Joe the plumber is the brother in law of Joe Sixpack.  When they get together, however, the plumbing really gets a workout…

9:20 – profligate ways?  Joe the plumber doesn’t understand this…

Obama is looking uncomfortable here.

Finally McCain is learning how to focus on his message.  Ignore Schieffer – push the mortgage plan!

I’m amazed McCain hasn’t mentioned earmarks yet, not to mention the projector!

Never mind.

9:24 – Nice comeback finally about “not running against Bush”.  McCain has been doing his homework.

btw, I understand that Americans are angry. And they are hurting.

9:26 Tort reform?  Clean coal technology?  (McCain better come back with Biden’s quote here…)

Hmm…. there’s a chance here that McCain has an opening to finally distinguish himself from Bush.  And an attack on Obama.

Here comes Ayers!

9.28.  And it’s on the table!  Let’s see how they handle this. Remember, the women’s vote rides in part on this….

Obama looks uncomfortable, and John is giving no quarter.  Nice touch on the advertising disparity.

But they are both keeping Ayers off the table despite Schieffer’s opening. Smart move in my book.

Well, Obama is not going to repudiate LEwis.   Boxed in a bit on this one, I think.

Bad move by Obama. Don’t sink into this!  Stay on the high road!  McCain is ready to pounce – you can see it.

And he pounces!  “I’m not going to stay hear and listen to you bad mouth the United States of America!”

McCain is winning this section. Obama needs to return to the economy.   Obama don’t do it – don’t talk about Ayers! NOoooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!

Same for Acorn.  Repudiate them both, and move on.  Stop talking about them!

I can’t believe Obama is letting this go on – how could he walk into this?  Move on Barack!

9:44.  this is a tricky question.  If McCain handles it right, and Obama is not careful it could turn into an Obama vs. Palin experience issue.

(btw – Jack Goodman notes the lapel issue – Obama goes to bed with it on now.)

Obama has to be more aggressive – he needs to attack Palin on troopergate.

Schieffer forces the issue, and sets the trap. Let’s see if McCain springs it – it’s an obvious setup.

When did Biden become a liability?  Obama takes the high road, ignores Palin. On the whole, maybe the smart move as I read your comments.  What’s the focus group doing, btw?

9:50.  Back to the issues.  Energy. I’m surprised McCain doesn’t bring up Palin and drilling.

Ok, Obama brings it up instead.  Here comes a winning issue for McCain- Joe the plumber likes drilling. Drill, baby, drill!

Trade – nice segue here by Obama. This is a winning issue for him in the swing states.

But McCain doesn’t miss the drilling opening!  But I can’t believe he wants to campaign on free trade.  Is this a winning issue for him?  And was that last line necesssary – it came across as pretty harsh.  It makes Obama look more presidential I think…

automakers – hasn’t Obama already won Michigan?  is he criticizing Detroit? What’s he up to?

McCain is certainly not missing any chance to drive home his talking points even if they aren’t part of the question.

Health care:  this is another issue of concern to women in particular…Is Obama connecting on this?

Joe the Plumber!   Hell no, he’s not paying any fine!

John is smirking.  Does he have another attack line ready?

Finally, Obama goes on attack on McCain’s health care.  Nice rebuttal here, I think.

Cosmetic surgery and transplants?  Did McCain just equate the two?

SEnator government!  Very nicely done!

This is really a good exchange.

(yes, Schieffer writes the questions in consultation with many people).

Roe v. Wade and the justices.  McCAin was doing well until those last two sentences. What did he say, exactly – a litmus test or not?

Another nice exchange. they disagree and are spelling out the disagreements for voters.

Repeat after me: women are the swing voters in this election.  Obama is no fool.

Ok, this is red meat for the partisans.  Most Americans’ views on abortion are very centrist, and their views on this issue are quite settled.  Not sure this is moving anyone in the swing camps.

Nice effort here by Obama to occupy the center ground.  Oh, and a very nice counter by McCain with the adoption story.


Another issue of concern to women.  I don’t think Obama wants to lecture parents.

NOt much disagreement here.

“they left the money behind…” nice touch.   but will McCain attack Obama for spending?  I wouldn’t think so.

Instead, Obama attacks McCain.

McCain does great on vouchers.  but it’s an easy issue.


McCain plays the trust card, but not very smoothly at first, although he finishes strong.

Obama  “the same failed policies” – sure it’s old, but it’s effective.  That is his campaign, in a nutshell.

We want Trig!  Will Cindy shake hands?

Where’s the baby?

Ok, let’s hear it. Remember, we don’t want to know who “won” – we want to know if any voters were changed.

What do you think?

We are now going to be subject to the inevitable focus group feedback… sigh.  Remember my warnings about instant polls, focus groups, etc.  Unless they tell you the demographic weighting, we can’t judge the validity of these polls…Also, who does the spin for each campaign?

Ok, some quick thoughts. I think Chris is right – Obama clearly was focusing on women in the swing states.  He refused to take the bait on Palin which, in retrospect, was a smart move.  He made clear distinctions with McCain on education and health care, two issues of concern to women.  And he, for the most part, tried to stay on the high road.  I thought McCain was on the attack, and he tried to use Palin as much as he could.  But she’s been misused so much in this campaign as an attack person that I’m not sure how effective she is with swing voters, particularly women.  McCain’s best line was in saying that if Obama wanted to run against Bush he should have done so four years ago.  But it’s not clear to me that anything that was said today was enough to take the spotlight away from the economy.  McCain was clearly better prepared than he has been in past debates, but he’s running up against fundamentals that clearly favor Obama.  All Obama has to do is look like he belongs on the stage with McCain – he can even agree with McCain and still benefit.

But I think this was the best debate so far in terms of informing viewers about the differences between the two candidates. It’s really too bad this format wasn’t used for all three debates.  Don’t forget that both candidates still have favorable ratings above 50% – these are two very strong candidates.  We often forget this in the partisan back and forth.

Over 100 comments tonight – great job everyone!  I really appreciate your participation.  Hope everyone had as much fun as I did.   I’ll be on early tomorrow with the post-mortem and the inevitable dissection of the media spin.  Remember, if you go on to Nate Silver’s site, or Daily Kos, or Red State, don’t expect accurate analysis – it’s for the like-minded.  Think of these sites as facebook for politics – not sources of accurate information.


  1. the debate itself was actually better, at least i thought in terms of what was said, but even though there were more details, it wasn’t much new stuff and therefore although the focus on some domestic issues plays to obama, i don’t see a huge change coming from it…..

  2. Thank you, professor, for this live blog. It has made an otherwise repetitious third debate much more engaging. As you might ask in class tomorrow “Did anyone change his mind?”

  3. Joe the Plumber’s vote changed at least five times! I do think that undecided women broke more toward Obama. McCain was reaching out to the far right, with his “pro-abortion movement” rhetoric. Anybody who cares about temper and tone found little appealing with McCain’s blinking & cackling. So I saw nothing to change the game, as they say…

  4. In my opinion, there wasn’t a clear winner. I think both candidates had their good moments and bad moments. I know that we’ve discussed that these debates have almost no impact, but I think that this debate will have even less of an impact. Both sides stumbled, and both sides made some good points.

  5. I’m thinking that both candidates firmed up their bases. McCain didn’t really try to reach out to those “swing” voters. Obama can be blamed for not taking the moral road, but he was looking at those swing voters. McCain looked right while Obama looked to the middle. Did it change anything? They were certainly able to draw the lines in a much darker color then in the past. Because they darkened the line this debate will move voters. Not because of someone won or lost, but rather because the candidates did a better job of telling the voting public who they are.

  6. I’m pretty tired of the CNN post debate follow up, but today they’re promising Hillary, McCain’s campaign manager, and…Joe the Plumber!

    Best debate so far, in terms of substance. Obama started each of the previous debates very strongly. I don’t think he started as strongly here. He didn’t seem as immediately charismatic, and he got bogged down when they got to the topic of negative campaigning. Towards the end, I think Obama did a better job connecting to independents and undecided. He scored points on healthcare and struck middle ground on abortion. I was impressed by McCain’s depth of knowledge on economic issues. He was more substantive on the bailout than he has been. Both candidates have filled out their proposals on the economy in recent days. That particularly showed for McCain who seemed less versed on the issue in the other debates.

    In all though, each stuck to their previous lines. Few will change their minds, I think. McCain discussed his plan to buy mortgages, but later in the debate his economic rhetoric was much more conservative.

  7. Watching the analysis on CNN, they asked the 30 person focus group if anyone had changed their minds. 3 people raised their hands, and all three said that they had decided to vote for Obama.

  8. Though I am aware that the focus group is only a 30 person group, and not the opinion of the entire nation. I guess all Obama can count on is three more votes in Ohio than he had before the debate began.

  9. Converting American troops straight out of Iraq into school teachers by reducing the necessary qualifications and certifications sounds like a terrible idea. Many of these soldiers return home with post-traumatic stress disorder, prone to angry outbursts or emotionally unavailable. Men and women who were maintaining authority through violence a few months ago are not the best candidates for teaching jobs. It would be a disservice to both soldiers and students to quickly usher returning troops into another stressful environment (albeit of an entirely different nature) with subpar training.

  10. Obama clearly won the womens’ vote tonight with his comments about Roe v. Wade but also by highlighting the case involving the woman who was paid less than a man doing the same job (McCain’s response was brusque and merely said the case was thrown out because of the Statute of Limitations…never appearly even slightly empathic about the underpaid female’s rights. He was smart to leave Palin alone…”the voters will decide”… and they will because of her obvious lack of qualifications. McCain tried to be “tough”…whatever that is supposed to mean…but came over as one who continues to make claims about himself that are either half false or totally false (such as his attack ads)… and ignoring those matters where he showed poor judgment (ie: Iraq)… Obama looked very well suited for the presidency showing calm and clear thinking

  11. I’m a bit intrigued…I read through the liveblogging, but not the comments (the angry little munchkin with the double-ear infection has required a lot of attention this evening), so I’m sorry if someone else has already pointed this out.

    I wasn’t always sure what McCain’s target audience was. I don’t mean, “what he was supposed to target.” I mean to whom he was acutally speaking. One of the things that struck me — and my wife, and her friends — was McCain’s incredibly dismissive riff on the “health of the mother” exception when it comes to restrictions on abortion. He even scare-quoted “health.” I’d be surprised if that got him a lot of independent women voters.

    Otherwise, McCain did some things he would have been well served to bring up much, much earlier in the campaign: Here’s a list of things on which I have broken with my party, here’s where I stand for achievable change, not lofty- rhetoric change, disagree with me but at least you know where I stand. The other thing he did, with greater consistency than he has before, is fight to make this a referendum about Obama. That’s McCain’s best shot. Obama’s best shot is to make the election a referendum on Bush, but he’ll settle for a referendum on McCain or a McCain vs Obama contest — which is why Obama hit back as often as he did but spent so much time laying out his plan in detail. The debate in large part was a fight over defining Obama — with McCain also trying to make his best “I’m for change” argument. And Obama knows that he has to define himself in order to prevent McCain from defining him. That’s why a recurring response to McCain’s criticisms was “You just heard my plan”. That’s why Obama fought back on Ayers.

    On Obama: Did you really suggest that he should repudiate John Lewis? You actually just advised him to side with John McCain over John Lewis? Now that I ask it that way, do you see how that’s maybe ill advised? Feeds the “where does he really stand?” (aka can you trust him?) theme, may alienate swathes of black voters and surrogates in southern states that are suddenly competitive, takes the pressure somewhat off McCain on the issue of the latest three weeks of his campaign, etc. And for what gain? Zilch. As you point out, McCain used the Otter Defense. But the polling on that front is clear: Independent voters think McCain spends most of his time attacking, not saying what he would do — aka, McCain is running a negative campaign. And McCain has had a few televised run-ins with the “Obama is an Arab” people. In any case, repudiating Lewis (or ACORN) is almost entirely a crappy proposition. You don’t diminish the attack in any way, and you only bring more pain on yourself while alienating an ally. It’s lose-lose.

    Obama issued a statement right after Lewis’s remarks saying basically what Obama said in the debate: Probably went too far, but here’s what he was talking about. Lewis also put out a statement partially qualifying his remarks. There was no reason for Obama to go any further.

    “automakers – hasn’t Obama already won Michigan? is he criticizing Detroit? What’s he up to?”

    He’s standing with a highly symbolic industry with strong union connections in all 50 states. He’s telling manufacturing workers (and retired union types) that it’s not their fault if their industries are struggling, and it’s not the “free market” either (the reference to South Korea). He’s making an argument we have heard from Biden on the stump. He’s reaching out to blue-collar voters. I have a family member, a retired union construction worker in a state north of DC, who calls my Nissan “your rice-boiler.” This is a powerful issue.

    This is the problem with statistical analysis versus campaign analysis. Your numbers tell you that independent women are THE demographic in play. Their numbers tell them that they need to: Court independent women, reassure working class voters in places like Pennsylvania, keep base voters excited, etc etc.

  12. 12a.m.- The WaPo fact checker is calling Obama out on misrepresenting McCain’s health plan as taxing health care plans for the first time, when really Americans who buy their own insurance don’t receive the same tax preference as those who get their insurance through their employer.

    However, the fact checker doesn’t mention that McCain was comparing apples to oranges when using the statistic that the average health plan costs $5800 and his tax credit would cover $5000. The average cost for an individual health plan is $5800 (at least the figure we’ve been using for these debates) but McCain’s tax credit to individuals is $2500. It’s families who get the full $5000, but their health costs are closer to $12,000/ year. This is all fine if employers are picking up half the tab, but if the plan raises costs to employers who then have to drop coverage, we’re s.o.l.

    Not to mention, if we are going to forgoe a discussion of why a single-payer system is so bad, then I would just throw out there into soundbite land that I don’t want the Comcast-ification of my healthcare, either. Can you imagine? For head injuries, please press 1. For communicable diseases, please press 2. Para Espanol, pulse el 3. Okay, I’m being facetious, but still.

  13. Although I wasn’t following your thoughts live, in reading over them, it seems that you are saying that Obama should avoid addressing Ayers and ACORN and should have just moved the debate on. I disagree with this on a strategic level. If Obama hadn’t explained the Ayers affiliation which has been on news cycles for a the past weeks, it would make it look like he had something to hide. The same goes for ACORN to a lesser extent. I thought Obama did an effective job in dismissing McCain’s attack (especially on Ayres).

    Yes, the recent NYT-CBS poll suggests that the McCain/Palin attacks are backfiring, but I still think it doesn’t hurt to address these attacks on a national stage, especially since the few undecided voters that are left out there probably aren’t that informed about Ayres.

    Last thought: Although the Ayres “scandal” certainly doesn’t seem to have much traction, ignoring it would remind me of John Kerry’s response to swift boating. I think Democrats have learned that they need to respond to this type of thing directly.

  14. I saw Gallup released a poll from the last 3 days saying that among “Likely voters (expanded),” Obama’s lead is 51% to 45%, but among “Likely voters (traditional),” Obama’s lead is only 49% to 47%, within the margin of error. Obviously the 49-47 has become Drudge’s big headline.
    They give a brief description of expanded v traditional, but what’s this about? Are “voting intentions” more accurate than “past voting behavior” in determining who’s actually going to vote? Why the 4 point swing?

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