Senator Barack Obama reassured his supporters and converted a few independents with his measured and composed performance in last night's debate. On the other hand, Senator John McCain came out swinging, in an effort to appease his base, but overall he seemed exasperated and frustrated.
For sure, McCain had some good moments. For instance, "Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." No doubt a planned response, as was the introduction of "Joe the Plumber," now the most famous plumber since E. Howard Hunt of Watergate fame. McCain's point was that if you raise taxes on small business owners, like Joe, the businesses would not be able to create jobs. But Obama reached right for the middle class in his response saying, "I want to provide a tax cut for 95% of working Americans."
Obama clearly had a plan going into the debate. While his performance was a bit slow out of the gate, Obama seemed thoughtful, steady and comfortable. He stared right into the camera when addressing the audience. He fortified his growing grasp on the middle class, especially with his position on health care. He established that the average health policy costs more than $12,000 a year, and then got McCain to admit he would tax corporate health care benefits. That admission no doubt sent alarm bells off in living rooms across the country.
McCain tried to paint Obama as the negative campaigner and himself as the victim. But Obama pushed back, "100% of your ads, John, 100% have been negative." Then McCain finally raised the specter of Obama's associations with Bill Ayers and ACORN, a controversial voter registration group, in a debate forum. Obama calmly offered his explanation and then pointedly said, "I think the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain says more about your campaign than it says about me."
After three debates with Senator McCain it is clear that Obama is a pretty cool customer. His performances have been consistent, steady and confident. He displayed a command of the facts and a thorough understanding of his positions on the issues. On the other hand, McCain's performance has been inconsistent, at times sarcastic and snide. Last night he failed to capitalize on opportunities and he failed to connect with "Joe Six Pack." Although Joe the Plumber and the Republican base may feel good about last night's debate, even Fox News analysts found little to praise in McCain's performance.
As the campaign heads into the home stretch, chances are voters will remain preoccupied with the struggling American economy, rising unemployment, falling wages, loss of wealth, escalating mortgage rates and record foreclosures. The earthquake on Wall Street has already had a tsunami like effect across the country. Everyone has pretty much lost confidence and the road to recovery is uncertain. This is their October surprise!
Americans are looking for a steady and confident leader who has a good plan and the ability to effectively implement it. I think most Americans have now decided who they want that leader to be come next January, and it's not Joe the Plumber.