Senator John McCain edged out Obama in tonight's debate. Neither candidate landed a fatal punch and neither candidate made a major gaffe. But with the McCain campaign struggling over the nation's financial crisis and growing doubts about Governor Sarah Palin, McCain's supporters no doubt were pleased with his performance tonight.
Senator McCain was on the offensive most of the night while Senator Obama appeared at times to be stressed and back on his heals. Remarkably, Obama failed to repeatedly tie McCain to the unpopular economic policies of President George Bush.
Neither candidate was willing to clearly state their position on Secretary Hank Paulsen’s controversial bail out proposal, though both agreed on the need for oversight and limits on executive pay. Obama did not bring up McCain’s campaign suspension or his possible role in derailing bipartisan negotiations. Obama scored points on his plan to cut taxes for the middle class while accusing McCain of proposing tax cuts only for the wealthy.
McCain first landed a punch on earmarks, special budget items approved at the request of a member of Congress. He tagged Obama with requesting several hundred million dollars worth as senator. McCain pledged to cut government spending, saying that the federal budget had grown excessively over the past eight years. And he accused Obama of proposing several hundred billion dollars of programs in his campaign that would increase the budget. Obama rebutted these charges indicating he had a way to pay for them.
McCain’s hardest punches were on Iraq. He criticized Obama’s failure to support the surge and his lack of recognition that it had succeeded. McCain mocked an answer Obama had given a few weeks ago to Fox News that the surge had “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Obama focused on his judgment as demonstrated by his very early opposition to the Iraq war and his oft-stated position that it took our eye and resources away from fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan.
Senator McCain seemed more at ease and he seemed to connect with the viewing audience. Obama seemed uncomfortable at times, too frequently squinting and raising a finger to be recognized. Obama was very deferential, often stating “I agree with Senator McCain on that point.” McCain did not return the favor. In fact, at times McCain’s posture and expression seemed to indicate disdain for the Illinois senator.
Senator McCain talked plainly and was able to effectively use several campaign taking points. Obama seemed flatter (bad makeup), more thoughtful and, for the most part, he showed little passion. McCain showed himself as worldly, wily and a deeply experienced veteran, while Obama appeared to be the serious, knowledgeable and smart.
Two presidential debates remain, and one between the two vice presidential candidates. In the end, tonight's presidential debate was not the game changer that the Obama campaign was hoping for. McCain, despite all the turmoil of the past 48 hours, proved once again he is a formidable opponent. For him this debate may have been a game saver.