I must say I’m surprised. I watched most of it live, and what I saw was, despite the occasional very good answer, Obama largely reacting to vicious, patronising attack after vicious, patronising attack (peppered with lies) by McCain. That he fended them all off was one thing, but it did leave him looking painfully defensive in a debate where there were open goals going in. Rather what appears to have swung it was McCain’s attitude:
the TV pundits seem to be saying that maybe Obama’s concessions toward McCain worked for Obama! Chris Matthews thinks McCain erred in never once looking at – respectfully acknowledging the presence of – his opponent. Even Pat Buchanan said that on MSNBC. And the pundits seem to be scorning McCain’s aggression. That really isn’t the way the punditocracy usually works. Makes me wonder if they’re seeing some internal polling that the rest of us don’t know about.
The polling the rest of us do know about supports the view that Obama “won”. A CBS poll of 500 uncommitted voters who watched found this: 40% said Obama won, 38% said it was a draw, and 22% called McCain the winner. CNN had Obama winning 51-38% overall, winning on the economy 58-37%, and even winning on Iraq 52-47%.
This would fit with my penultimate liveblogging comment on Twitter last night – out of the two of them only Obama was behaving in a presidential manner. McCain was rude, aggressive, dismissive, and in an election dominated (even this week) by ‘change’ and the need for it, came across as a throwback almost to another era. Was this Nixon/Kennedy all over again? Even conservative Christians thought Obama won:
I think Obama has to be judged the winner. Nobody’s mind will be changed by this debate, but Obama seemed loose and confident and not intimidate by McCain. McCain seemed growly and tense, though more focused than usual. Because McCain didn’t beat Obama, and because Obama is ahead right now, Obama wins a narrow victory.
(via Andrew Sullivan)
New York Times? A win for Obama with reservations:
Mr. Obama was not particularly warm or amusing; at times he was stiff and almost pedantic. But all he had to do was look presidential, and that was not such a stretch. Mr. McCain had the harder task of persuading leery voters that he can lead the future because he is so much part of the past.
He tried to remind viewers of his greater experience and heroic combat career, while also casting himself as a maverick outsider ready to storm the barricades. Mr. McCain wanted to be the true revolutionary in the room, but his is the Reagan revolution, and for a lot of people right now, it doesn’t look like morning in America.
The BBC’s a little more cautious and hands it (barely) to McCain:
On foreign policy it all seemed a little clearer, although I should say Mr McCain won on points, without delivering anything remotely approaching a knockout blow.
The video and a transcript of the debate are here.