Saturday, September 27, 2008

Round One Goes to McCain

The first big debate is over, the early reviews are in, and - predictably - both sides are saying they're happy with the way their

Posted By on Sat, Sep 27, 2008 at 8:56 AM

The first big debate is over, the early reviews are in, and - predictably - both sides are saying they're happy with the way their guy did.


"I would call the debate mostly a tie on points," blogged Jeff Alworth on BlueOregon this morning. "But as to who was most helped, I would score it a clear political win for Obama. McCain had a catastrophic week, and he needed to do more than tie on points. He needed something that would turn the election around. He didn't get it. Worse, if you were leaning to Obama and tuned in just to see if he passed the smell test, you'd be pleased. Given the structure of the race, a tie is a pretty big win for Obama.

"Sometimes I think we over-analyze, too. Obama really does hold all the cards. In some sense, this was a low-stakes event because he knows the issues and is right on them. It was far worse debating Hillary because they agreed on everything. We had to start going to the tie-breakers to see who won, subtle things that are the height of subjectivity. But McCain versus Obama is night versus day. They don't agree on anything, and America largely agrees with Obama. As long as he didn't start jabbering incoherently, he was going to seem more reasonable simply because the guy you agree with always looks more reasonable. And most people agree with Obama."

At the other end of the political spectrum, Ted Piccolo ("I Am Coyote") was live-blogging on NW Republican: "McCain comes into the debate well behind because of his foolish political stunt of being opposed to the debate before he was in favor of it. ...

"I am not sure that there was any real knock out. John McCain is clearly the better man and I don't know that I have ever said that before. ...

"As far as debate parsing goes though he missed some opportunities. He did finish strong and he put Obama on his heels pretty good at 7:23. I am not sure there was enough here to change polls one way or the other."

And for the view from the middle, here's Jeff Mapes blogging for The Oregonian: "Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain acted like, well, the senators they are, going at each other and the issues with great knowledge of each other and of the issues. What that means is that both did well enough to keep their supporters feeling their guy did just fine."

For what it's worth - probably almost nothing - most polls taken immediately after the debate said Obama was the winner. A CNN poll right after the debate found that 51% of those surveyed thought Obama won, compared to only 38% for McCain.

But from The Eye's vantage point, McCain did slightly better than Obama. On the first couple of questions, focusing on the economy, he stumbled a few times, gave vague responses and seemed ill at ease. But when the topic turned to foreign policy - considered his strong suit - he regained his footing and waded in, pounding Obama as weak on Iraq, Iran, and the newly re-emerging Russian threat in Eastern Europe. He repeatedly called Obama inexperienced and naïve, saying he didn't understand nuances of military strategy and foreign policy.

We thought Obama at times looked off-balance, ill at ease, and gave rambling, hard-to-follow answers. He also missed some good chances to zing McCain.

For instance, when McCain lambasted him for saying he would sit down and talk with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama could have said something along the lines of: "Senator McCain seems to think it's wrong to negotiate peaceful solutions to our differences with other countries. I disagree. I don't want four more years of shoot-from-the-hip cowboy diplomacy."

(McCain comically had trouble pronouncing Ahmadinejad's name - but who doesn't?)

Overall, McCain managed to give the impression he was tougher, more mature, more experienced, and better equipped to handle serious foreign policy problems. In future debates, which will focus more on domestic issues, Obama is likely to have the edge. But The Eye scores Round One for McCain, narrowly.

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