Obama Wins First Debate

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.


7 responses to “Obama Wins First Debate

  1. Well I think if most organisations are calling it for Obama that’s quite a propaganda coup for him, given this was the “foreign policy” debate and supposedly his weakest area.

    I personally put it at a tie or close to it, I thought overall McCain offered perhaps slightly more substance on FP (not good substance), whereas Obama was clearly better presentationally. McCain was spikey, aggressive and patronising, but this may prove to be an advantage to him, we’ll have to see how it shakes out.

    I don’t think it was a major game changer, because I don’t think either landed any serious blows or gave us a gotcha moment. I think McCain probably needed to do a bit better in this one than he actually ended up doing, but I don’t think that he didn’t will have done him significant damage and he can recover from it.

    the CNN poll of polls called it for Obama while recognising that it believed there was a higher proportion of Dems watching that Reps – which is interesting in itself and perhaps suggests that McCain is still not enthusing his base, given how tight the polls are.

    Next week is Palin and Biden and we may well have a clear winner with that one – the write ups of Palin’s recent interview with Couric have been scathing to say the least. Biden has to find a way to wipe the floor with her without looking like a total asshole – and she’ll no doubt spend the next week locked up with Republican attack dogs to try and get her ready. Nevertheless, McCain could yet end up repenting at leisure who he picked in haste for a short term bounce.

  2. I personally would have tied it for the reasons in my penultimate Tweet from last night, which remains frustrating considering just how many open goals were presented to Obama before and during the debate.

    Having said that the presentational issue seems overwhelmingly important right now, for reasons which repeat from 2004 and are grounded in the current economic crisis. There is an affability which Bush had in 2004, despite his known lies and incompetence, and which carried him through against Kerry on screen. McCain doesn’t have any likability when in front of a camera at all. The contrast of his belligerence and sneering against Obama’s statesmanlike demeanour was quite telling. Did it mean he allowed some unnecessary blows to be landed on him? Yes, but I think it’s Andrew Sullivan whose analysis put it that that’s entirely consistent with Obama’s long-term game plan.

    Of course the country, deliberately rattled by Bush in his scaremongering address, was also looking for stable behaviour in unstable times – McCain didn’t offer that either. Will he benefit in any manner from the aggression, as the BBC thinks? Maybe, but I can’t imagine anywhere past his rapidly shrinking base.

  3. I find it amusing that some of us from the liberal end are calling it more evenly, while some of those at the conservative side seem to be giving it to Obama on points. Obama seems to have won the battle of the immediate reaction, the general media line being taken is that he edged it. Whether McCain can reverse spin that in the next few days remains to be seen but his erratic behaviour coupled with a clear lack of telling win in this debate does pose him some difficulties.

    It will be good to see the next few days worth of polls to see how they play out – as we saw in 2004 winning the debates doesn’t necessarily win you the election.

  4. It’s interesting you should bring Palin back up, considering post-debate she can’t currently be found for comment. In fact the commentary is starting to grow from conservatives that she should be ditched before next week’s VP head-to-head. After her debacle with Katie Couric surely there’s no way back? It would make for an entertaining new stunt, but who could McCain replace her with who could be remotely electable? I know! Why not ‘suspend’ her campaign too? Until about November 5th!

  5. They have to be worried, surely – I’m sure they’re going to massage expectations so low that if she manages to construct sentences it’ll be considered a Palin win.

    She can’t step aside though without exposing McCain to ridicule for appalling judgement.

    In short, they’re stuck in a trap.

  6. sadly (?) I was flying cross country and missed the debates on Friday. It sounds like Obama won the buzz, but that there were few forced errors or attitude shifts. I don’t htink this debate was a game changer, and everyone is waiting for the Palin/Biden debate over here, and I think that will have more impact for undecideds. Who for whatever reason were either encouraged or outraged over the VP picks.

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