David Kirkpatrick

September 26, 2008

Obama narrowly wins debate, wins week big

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:32 pm

Whew. Here at the close of an absolutely insane week of economics and politics we had the first presidential debate. A debate that almost became a 90 minute monologue from Obama before McCain thought better of his idiotic threat to “boycott” the debate.

My initial take? It was a solid performance from both candidates, but I think Obama won narrowly by sticking to the questions a bit better and being much stronger with his rebuttals. McCain was a bit repetitive and seemed to fall back on his own talking points when rebutting rather than facing Obama’s responses head-on.

I’ll provide bits from my notes below the fold.

The big story is how badly McCain misjudged this entire week. He came off as a loony overreacter by first stating the “fundamentals of the economy are sound,” and immediately reversing course and claiming the financial crisis is the worst problem the US has faced since World War II. Not very statesmanlike.

He compounded the unforced error by “suspending” his campaign, but not really and being exposed in the press for the subterfuge. He then charged to DC to fix the financial mess himself and ended up blamed for scuttling the bailout by emboldening House GOPers who promptly threw him under the bus. It’s not correct,  but the impression is he single handedly screwed the bipartisan plan put together by Congress and the White House.

And of course he said he wouldn’t debate unless a bailout plan was in place. There’s no plan in place and he was behind his podium in Oxford, Mississippi, looking quite heavily made-up and relatively fresh.

The end result? Obama wins this critical week in the presidential race by a very, very wide margin. He looked and sounded presidential and serious where McCain looked like shit creek sailor without a paddle.

Go below the fold for my at-the-time notes on the debate from tonight.

It’s September 26, 2008 and the first presidential debate of this electoral year. Scheduled for 9:00 pm EDT at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, Mississippi. The moderator is Jim Lehrer, anchor of PBS’s “News Hour.”

I’m so serious I’ve sharpened my note-taking pencil. Lehrer announces the audience agreed to not applaud or otherwise react during the debate.

8:03 pm (my time) … it’s on.

Question one is on the current financial crisis and possible bailout. Obama is up first and calls this a defining moment in history between two wars and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression facing the US. He offers a strong populist message and puts the blame on the Bush 43 years in office. Obama focuses on the middle class.

McCain goes second, gives a shout-out to Ted Kennedy in the hospital and praises the bipartisan efforts to solve the crisis. He talks about “Main Street’s” pain and points out he’s been around and seen a lot of problems. My first reaction is McCain doesn’t sound very confident. Also mentions reducing dependence on foreign oil.

After each candidate gets two minutes for initial response they get five discussion minutes for each lead question. This first discussion period is a good exchange and Lehrer unsuccessfully tries to get the two to address each other directly.

The second question is on the fundamental differences between each candidate’s approach to governing. McCain gets the initial response and ignores the question and talks about “getting spending under control” before going into the evils of earmarks. Obama gets a decent rebuttal to McCain’s jabs at his earmarking and actually answers the question making a solid point about McCain’s tax cuts for the wealthy and once again ties McCain to Bush 43. This entire exchange was pretty even with both candidates making solid points and strong rebuttals. Toward the end things finally get a bit contentious. McCain seems a little shrill and Obama seems a bit tight.

The third question stayed with the bailout and asked both what part of their agenda would be scuttled by the bailout. Both candidates pretty much ignored the question with Obama talking about what is still important to him and McCain going back to cutting spending. Lehrer pushes both repeatedly and does a bit of lecturing. Obama springs Iraq on the narrative for the first time here and McCain follows that with “terrorists.” Lotta buzz, little substance from both. McCain loses this round handily by becoming quite repetitive and not rebutting direct attacks, plus his good points are lost to a quick and overly subtle presentation. At 8:37 he actually calls himself “maverick.”

On lead question four Lehrer gets to the subject of the debate — foreign policy — and asks about the lessons of Iraq. McCain is surprisingly weak here given this is his wheelhouse. He carries on about not having a “failed strategy” and how we’re going to succeed in Iraq. Goes to the surge without calling it by name and namechecks Petreus. Obama presses his “fundamental differences” with McCain on the war and how he opposed the war from day one and even threw in al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. Round one foreign policy to Obama.

During this question McCain also dropped into this freaky sing-songy voice. Not quite sure what he tried to achieve, but it made him sound a bit loony to me. In comparison to the high-pitched almost babytalk of McCain, Obama sounds presidential.

Question five is on more US troops in Afghanistan. Obama has a strong response and answers the question asks without going to platitudnal buzz. McCain opens with the Soviet/Afghan conflict. McCain is sounding old, somewhat lecturing and maybe even breaking down a little. Obama seems to be working a bit too hard.

Next up is Iran and McCain goes to Israel immediately and even references a possible “second Holocaust.” What!?! Obama has a reasonable response and keeps up a theme of referring to, “when I’m president of the United States.”

To this point both candidates are solid, but Obama is much better with his rebuttals and specifically attacking McCain’s points. McCain falls into trite talking points and doesn’t really acknowledge Obama’s responses. And he’s very repetitive and keeps using that freaky voice. Lots of Reagan references as well.

McCain did get the best of a couple of strong back-and-forths.

The seventh question is on Russia and after Obama’s on-topic response McCain inexplicably goes into to a long-winded rebut on nuclear waste. ?!?

The final question is on the odds of another 9/11. McCain thinks there’s less a chance than there was that morning, namecheck Joe Leiberman, talked about torture for the second time (condemning the Bush 43 stance of pro-torture) and touted his bipartisan bona fides. Obama’s response was we are safer in ways, but worried about suitcase nukes and spoke on how the US is perceived in the world after the Bush 43 years. Gave props to McCain for his anti-torture stance.

In the wrap-up Obama ties McCain to Bush 43 once again, spoke of a resurgent al-Qaeda and tried to steal concern for veterans from McCain. McCain strangely tries to tie Obama to Bush 43 (??!??) and really pushed Iraq as his signature issue. Not sure if that’s a winning line of debate given the public’s view of that conflict. At 9:36 he pulls out the POW card by referring to his “prison” experience.


  1. McCain did better than I thought he was going to do. From a brand perspective I say it was a tie.

    McCain stayed “on brand” His brand is about “experience” .

    He kept hammering that idea home with “you don’t understand”.

    Obama needs to be careful and not come off as a- smarty pants. He should stick to his brand message which is like the old Pepsi campaign- the choice of a new generation.

    Comment by Allen Adamson — September 27, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

  2. […] McCain lost this week big time. The tipping point may be at hand. […]

    Pingback by Another reax from debate one « David Kirkpatrick — September 27, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

  3. […] McCain, Obama, presidential race, projections — davidkirkpatrick @ 4:23 pm McCain posts a total “FAIL” of a week and Obama reaps the polling and projection […]

    Pingback by 538 projections after McCain’s failure of a week « David Kirkpatrick — September 28, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

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