Saturday 27 September 2008

Debate verdicts: as you were

If there was no clear winner, most people seem to have ended the night thinking pretty much what they did when they began. A debate transcript is available from RealClearPolitics.

One of the most interesting pieces of analysis is from Nate Silver on The New Republic's The Plank blog, arguing that the pundits don't understand why voters put Obama ahead.

The CNN poll [detail] suggests that Obama is opening up a gap on connectedness, while closing a gap on readiness ... Specifically, by a 62-32 margin, voters thought that Obama was “more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you”. This is a gap that has no doubt grown because of the financial crisis of recent days. But it also grew because Obama was actually speaking to middle class voters.

But here are the best of the pundits' verdicts anyway ...

Ezra Klein says that McCain's passion came from contempt for his opponent and a failing ideology.

McCain has every right to be angry: He would have been an excellent, maybe unbeatable, candidate in 2000 or 2004. Instead, he's facing down the excesses of his own ideology in 2008. And that's what McCain doesn't understand. He's not behind because he doesn't deserve this, or because he's not served his country honorably. He's behind because events have disproven his agenda. Because the success of the surge does not outweigh the blunder of Iraq. Because the appeal of tax cuts does not outweigh the costs of deregulation and wage stagnation. And even the best debate performance can't obscure that.

Joe Klein says McCain was tactical where Obama was strategic.

Obama emerged as a candidate who was at least as knowledgeable, judicious and unflappable as McCain on foreign policy ... and more knowledgeable, and better suited to deal with the economic crisis and domestic problems the country faces ... Neither man closed the sale, and I don't think many votes, or opinions, were changed.

Matthew Yglesias says McCain failed to gain the ground he needs.

All things considered, it’s about a draw. McCain got a couple of good punches in and so did Obama. Insofar as the idea is supposed to be that McCain has a domineering advantage on national security he certainly didn’t prove that point. And for the candidate who’s losing, a tie amounts to a loss.

Jim Geraghty of National Review thinks it was a surprisingly strong night for John McCain, after a bad week, perhaps proving his own point.

My guess is, everybody thinks their guy won tonight. From where I sit, McCain had a surprisingly strong night — it'll change the storyline from "uh, what was he thinking?" ... it's really hard to say McCain had a bad night, and I think Obama seemed a little shaky at times tonight - his performance didn't boldly and clearly say, "I know I'm new on the scene, but you can trust me; I am ready to succeed in the hardest job in the world."

Andrew Sullivan - an Obamacon - believes the Democrat was more focused.

It strikes me as a mistake for McCain to end the debate on his commitment to staying in Iraq indefinitely. Obama's emphasis on the broader global conflict and our broader responsibilities will reach more people. His vision seems broader, wiser, and more focused on ordinary people. A masterful performance tonight, I think. Obama's best ever debate performance. McCain was fine, but it's wrong for him to attack his opponent at the end. And then he gave a slightly rambling defense of his experience. I give Obama an A - and I give McCain a B.

Chris Cillzilla of the Washington Post thought McCain gave his most relaxed debate performance to date and is not convinced that Obama pinned the Bush record on McCain.

Obama had a simple goal in this debate: tie McCain to the policies of George W. Bush. Right from the start, Obama sought to link the economic policies responsible for the financial crisis to Bush and McCain; he noted at another time that although McCain as casting himself as a maverick, he had voted with the current president 90 percent of the time ... It's a smart strategy on paper. But, will the average voter become convinced that McCain and Bush are one in the same? Remember that the lasting image most voters have of McCain is as the guy who ran against Bush in 2000.

Michael Tomasky of The Guardian wants more time to decide before accepting the instant reaction.

Let's watch what happens over the next two or three days. The McCain campaign, as I've written a hundred times, is geared toward winning news cycles. They will see the above numbers and go into overdrive to counter-spin. I don't think Obama's win, if that's what it was, was so decisive that the McCain team can't reverse spin it. It's McCain who's behind, and it's McCain who needs to change minds here.

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