Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Who won? 'That one'
Could John McCain have looked any older, any more doddering, or any more like the neighborhood crank than he did in tonight's debate? (Transcript) The Arizona Senator wandered around the stage erratically, told oddball jokes (about hair plugs, and responded to Tom Brokaw's question about who he'd pick as treasury secretary with "not you," and didn't get a laugh either time...) stammered over both Obama and the moderator that if Obama got a follow up, doggone it he wanted one too, did an impression of George H.W. Bush with that geezery "steady hand on the tiller" line, and incredibly, referred to Obama in the way an old codger might have referred to his black house boy back in the 1950s; calling him "that one." (video)

McCain was very aggressive -- he seemed to get almost too close to the audience at times, and he kept doing that weird combination of "my friends" and, as Chris Matthews put it, that creepy, menacing smile. He was also condescending, taking for granted that an African-American questioner wouldn't know what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were. And he dropped the ball on his signature POW schtick, referring to it so obliquely, it sounded like he was losing his train of thought.

Perhaps McCain's only two solid moments, were the one early in the debate when he suggested that the Treasury buy up bad mortgages -- something any good Democrat might find tempting. Of course, such an idea is exactly the opposite of conservatism, and therefore will strike much of his base as a steaming pile of socialism, and the moment when he shook hands with a questioner who was a fellow Navy man, saying "everything important I ever learned, I learned from a midshipman."

But everything else tonight went Obama's way. He was languid, calm, warm and presidential. He spoke to voters in terms that screamed "kitchen table" (i.e., we have to prioritize in Washington the way families do...) He walked over to the questioner, found a mark, and stuck to it, where McCain wandered around the stage so frenetically, a friend of mine texted me and asked what was wrong with his legs. He shut McCain down twice with authority: once when he said, "McCain keeps saying I don't understand. ... You're right, I don't understand how we got sidetracked from going after Bin Laden and went into Iraq instead," and when he slammed McCain, who had just done a soliloquy on "speaking softly and carrying a big stick," by reminding the audience that McCain is the guy who sung "bomb bomb bomb Iran," called for the annihilation of North Korea and before we finished in Afghanistan, said "next stop: Baghdad." And his call for AIG to give back the $400,000 in bailout money they spent on a luxury junket and fire their executives hit the mark.

And Obama got the question on healthcare right: McCain called it a "responsibility" and Obama said it's a "right," and very affectingly talked about his mother's experience at the end of her life.

Obama also won the aftermath -- he and Michelle stuck around and worked the room for a long time, talking with the undecided voters who made up the audience in the debate, and taking lots of pictures (including with the brother in the goldenrod colored suit who I suspect wasn't really undecided, seeking out the Navy veteran, while McCain was in such a hurry to get out of the room, he actually walked in front of the camera, and Tom Brokaw -- blocking the shot in a most erratic, old man wandering around the neighborhood off his meds kind of way... (video)

The post-debate polls are as follows:

CNN:

Who won the debate?
Obama - 54%
McCain - 30%

Who was more likable?
Obama - 65%
McCain - 28%

Who seemed more like a typical politician?
McCain - 52%
Obama - 36%

Who spent more time attacking his opponent?
McCain - 63%
Obama - 17%


CBS:

Who won the debate?
Obama - 39%
McCain - 27%

More detail from the CBS poll:
Thirty-nine percent of the 400 uncommitted voters surveyed identified Barack Obama as tonight's winner; 27 percent said John McCain won, while 35 percent saw the debate as a draw.

After the debate, 68 percent of uncommitted voters said that they think Obama will make the right decisions on the economy, compared to 54 percent who said that before the debate. Fewer thought McCain would do so – 49 percent after the debate, and 41 percent before.

Before the debate, 60 percent thought Obama understands voters’ needs and problems; that rose to 80 percent after the debate. For McCain, 35 percent felt he understands voters’ needs before the debate, and 46 percent thought so afterwards.

McCain did win the question of who is more ready to be president. But I think you can ask Hillary Clinton how far "ready on day one" gets you with voters scared about their 401Ks.

More reactions:

Taegan Goddard (with an extra zinger for the oddly old guy seeming Tom Brokaw, too...)
Tonight's debate wasn't even close. Sen. Barack Obama ran away with it -- particularly when speaking about the economy and health care. Talking about his mother's death from cancer was very powerful. On nearly every issue, Obama was more substantive, showed more compassion and was more presidential.

... Tom Brokaw was terrible as moderator. His fixation with the rules -- particularly when the candidates were not complaining -- was distracting and a disservice to everyone. The format didn't work very well, but Brokaw made it worse.
Andrew Sullivan:
This was, I think, a mauling: a devastating and possibly electorally fatal debate for McCain... I've watched a lot of debates and participated in many. I love debate and was trained as a boy in the British system to be a debater. I debated dozens of times at Oxofrd. All I can say is that, simply on terms of substance, clarity, empathy, style and authority, this has not just been an Obama victory. It has been a wipe-out. It has been about as big a wipe-out as I can remember in a presidential debate. It reminds me of the 1992 Clinton-Perot-Bush debate. I don't really see how the McCain campaign survives this.
NRO's Andy McCarthy:

We have a disaster here — which is what you should expect when you delegate a non-conservative to make the conservative (nay, the American) case. We can parse it eight ways to Sunday, but I think the commentary is missing the big picture.

Here's what Obama needed to do tonight: Convince the country that he was an utterly safe, conventional, centrist politician who may have leftward leanings but will do the right thing when the crunch comes.

Now, as the night went along, did you get the impression that Obama comes from the radical Left? Did you sense that he funded Leftist causes to the tune of tens of millions of dollars? Would you have guessed that he's pals with a guy who brags about bombing the Pentagon? Would you have guessed that he helped underwrite raging anti-Semites? Would you come away thinking, "Gee, he's proposing to transfer nearly a trillion dollars of wealth to third-world dictators through the UN"?

Nope. McCain didn't want to go there. So Obama comes off as just your average Center-Left politician. Gonna raise your taxes a little, gonna negotiate reasonably with America's enemies; gonna rely on our very talented federal courts to fight terrorists and solve most of America's problems; gonna legalize millions of hard-working illegal immigrants. ....

... Memo to McCain Campaign: Someone is either a terrorist sympathizer or he isn't; someone is either disqualified as a terrorist sympathizer or he's qualified for public office. You helped portray Obama as a clearly qualified presidential candidate who would fight terrorists.

If that's what the public thinks, good luck trying to win this thing.

Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard -- here's the opening and closing paragraphs:

John McCain had a very strong debate tonight. It’s too bad for him that it came on a night when Barack Obama was nearly flawless.

... Obama’s test in the first debate was to present himself as a plausible president, as a guy who didn’t seem out of place on stage at a presidential debate and wouldn’t seem out of place delivering a State of the Union address. Much as I’d disagree with the policies in such a speech, it was clear that he passed that test. Tonight, his job was to persuade voters – particularly independents – not only that he could be president but that he should be president. I suspect polling in the next couple of days will provide evidence that he passed that test, too.

Powerline:

I thought that Barack Obama won the “visuals” of tonight’s debate. He looked younger and more vigorous, of course, but, in addition, John McCain did too much moving around. He seemed focused on addressing a “town hall,” as he has done so well over the years. But in reality, as Obama seemed quicker to appreciate, the audience tonight was in television land. To them, McCain’s movement must have seemed a bit aimless.

... A win on the visuals and at least a draw on substance (if that’s a fair assessment) is a win for Obama at this point. So tonight he moves a little closer to the presidency. I continue to believe that voters will subject him to one more round of serious scrutiny when the debates are over. Tonight’s performance marginally enhances his chance of surviving that scrutiny, which was already pretty good.

Oh, and Obama also won Frank Luntz's Fox News focus group, too, which prompted Brit Hume to make the most undertakery, deadpan facial expression he may have ever produced for a television camera. Hilarious.

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posted by JReid @ 11:21 PM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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