Who won the debate?

Welcome back - and so soon!
After recovering from the Canadian election, we were thrown right back into the thick of the Presidential race and the last Presidential debate.
Alright, who won the debate? In my view, John McCain had his best debate of the three that he's had, while Obama was flat and played it safe. McCain won on substance, but Obama won on style - perception, that is.

Although the sit-down format with moderator Bob Schieffer was in sharp contrast to Sen. McCain's preferred 'town hall' approach, he seemed comfortable with it.

The major thrust of this debate was that Obama was forced onto the defensive almost all the way through. Obama didn't find his 'zone' until about a half an hour into the 90 minute match. Even then, however, he had to continually explain his voting record, his conversations with 'Joe the Plumber' [that, however, got tired pretty fast on both their parts], and his tax policy.

Take a look at the 'Joe the Plumber' sequence with Obama on the campaign trail and judge for yourself: [sorry about the CNN.com commercial for Exxon-Mobil - they don't pay me anything for this]

Did you notice how Obama does all the talking? A little more listening might have been more impressive!

McCain had to score a big win tonight - which is very hard to do against the smooth and cool Obama. While he didn't do that, he served his campaign well, giving them a foundation for the next three weeks.

Debate Perceptions

1. McCain managed to move away from his anger and kept it far more focused on the issues. While he brought up Wiliam Ayers, he didn't bog down in it. Obama, I believe was able to put it to rest.
2. McCain fleshed out a very clear storyline on his economic approach - cut wasteful spending, reform government and bureaucratic agencies, cut taxes. He contrasted this with Obama's spending promises continually.
3. Sen. McCain looked too sneering visually on the split screen when Sen. Obama was talking. His anger - while more under control than last time - was still palpable. Women in particular seemed to respond poorly whenever he did that, as the CNN 'undecided voter' graph indicated.
4.Obama didn't enjoy himself, but did find a few moments of lightness and smiles, which helped him when he was being put into a corner on several occasions.

So who looked and sounded Presidential? Obama. Who looked and sounded strong and tough? McCain. If the undecided voters are scared and they want tough leadership, they may be more attracted to McCain.

Here's a good example of a strong intervention by McCain on whether he is Bush's third term:


On balance, perception went to Obama, while substance went to McCain. Although I didn't listen to it on the radio, I would not be surprised if, as with Richard Nixon in 1960, the majority may well have chosen McCain. However, as we know, the majority who watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates, thought Kennedy won. That is no doubt the reality of what we saw tonight.

What should McCain do in the final three weeks?

It will depend on how he focuses his campaign message, his advertising and his own time. Go to the battleground states, turn positive and specific about what he will do to change America for the better. Stay off the negative. Try to channel Ronald Reagan, not Bob Dole.

CNN's post-debate performance

One problem I had was with CNN's post-debate analysis. Campbell Brown - true to form - given her fairly obvious bias throughout the campaign, introduced the results of an immediate poll. It was comprised, she admitted, of a large majority of Democratic voters who thought Obama won. Surprise! Surprise! You could see John King and Anderson Cooper were uncomfortable with the bias and did indeed point it out. But the damage is done as that kind of skewed coverage has an influence on viewers. The real decisions on who won debates often take place 48 hours later when the pundits have spoken.

So here's a suggestion to CNN. You may have the self-titled, "best political team on television", but wouldn't it be nice to have a credible poll?
I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Until next time,

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