There was nothing definitive as far as I could tell.
John McCain was grumpy but effective. Barack Obama proved detractors that he did know his stuff on foreign policy and despite McCain’s attempts to say he didn’t understand every word out of Obama’s mouth on tactics, strategy, history and diplomacy in the foreign policy arena was polished. There were no major gaffes. No major missteps. Obama was laid back and relaxed, but firm. McCain, as opined by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews over and over again in his post-debate coverage — McCain wouldn’t look his opponent in the eye.
It was interesting to watch. Because of the relative draw in the debate, every pundit and pontificator saw it a different way. On CNN the roundtable thought it was Obama who was on edge and looked annoyed, saying he spent most of the debate on the defensive. But then they were bewildered by their own early poll of viewers which showed that 51 percent thought Obama “did better” than McCain who was at 38 percent.
Obama winning was a trend in a lot of early polling.
CBS had Obama as the winner 39 percent to McCain’s 25. (Thirty-six percent saw a draw). And the Insider Advantage poll had Obama winning with 42 percent to McCain’s 41, with 17 percent undecided.
CNN’s pundits reviews were mixed. Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez tried to argue that Obama disrespected McCain by calling him by his first name during the debate, although others defending Obama saying he only did that when trying to get McCain’s attention to point out some perceived misrepresentation of his record.
Some concluded that the stalemate counted as a win on style for Obama because foreign policy was supposed to be McCain’s strongest subject, yet he could not knock out his opponent. The biased, but blunt Paul Begala declared that McCain needed a knock out after the horrific week he had.
A draw was simply not good enough.
MSNBC was another planet. Whereas CNN was more critical of Obama, Hardball’s Chris Matthews couldn’t get over the perceived slight of McCain not looking at Obama, something I didn’t even notice. But he pestered every guest and pundit about it. He also couldn’t understand why Obama didn’t go on the attack over the economy. But both were tepid on the issues because no one knew what the final product would look like when it came to the Wall Street bailout bill that both would have to vote on.
Matthews did point out that some news was made that evening when moderator Jim Lehrer got McCain to admit that he would vote for the bailout. Although, he said it so low and curtly a viewer could have easily missed it.
At MSNBC, many made the same points as CNN, saying that Obama was sidetracked by McCain and was stuck playing defense. Despite said Obama still held his own. But things were still vague.
Matthews admitted even he didn’t know who won and was surprised by their early polling which showed Obama as the clear winner by more than 20 points.
Obama was willing to admit when he agreed with John McCain. (MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said he agreed 13 times.) Some argued it showed how diplomatic and gracious he was. Others thought he just created an attack ad for his opponent. Good strategy? Bad strategy?
McCain wouldn’t segue ground on anything, making him look either tough or like a “troll,” as Matthews repeated. He was belligerent and even dismissive at times, not wanting to acknowledge Obama in the same way he wanted to not acknowledge the president of Iran. He seemed annoyed by Obama’s very existence. Good strategy? Bad strategy?
McCain’s theme: He’s not ready. Obama’s theme: He’s Bush II. Good strategy? Bad strategy? What worked? What didn’t?
But the ultimate question is, who won?
Some say because we can’t answer that question, Obama won by default. He passed the foreign policy test and proved he wasn’t a lightweight. Other say McCain showed real assertiveness and command of his statements after a rought week. He was solid even if a few details were fudged, like his declaration that he killed the Boeing refueling tanker deal.*
Here’s a round up of others’ take on the first great debate:
“My scorecard says that McCain won the night 7-1, which frankly surprises me. On paper that looks like a rout, but McCain didn’t seem that dominant as it was happening. Certainly there was nothing in the debate that Obama will worry about as having been a big blow. I saw McCain winning the debate pretty handily, but I doubt he scored any larger strategic victory,” Jonathan V. Last, The Weekly Standard
“I thought it was largely a tie. But McCain’s whole campaign is based on his supposed superior knowledge and judgment on foreign policy. So I think that’s a problem for McCain … McCain didn’t have any freak-out moments. But he did have that sneer and there did seem to be this thing where he was so contemptuous and angry at Obama that he couldn’t get himself to make eye contact. I think we’ll hear more about that. Angry, angry, angry. Part of the key here is that McCain is clearly miffed that he even has to debate or run against Obama. He thinks it’s an insult,” Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo
“Deep down, I know what appeals to me in a debate isn’t necessarily what appeals to the country as a whole. Bu
t it’s really hard to say McCain had a bad night, and I think Obama seemed a little shaky at times tonight – his performance didn’t boldly and clearly say, ‘I know I’m new on the scene, but you can trust me; I am ready to succeed in the hardest job in the world,'” Jim Geraghty, The National Review Online
“(C)ount me impressed by both candidates. I know it may sound a bit pollyannish, but I thought one would not bring their “A” game or that one would get complacent and that didn’t happen. There are some who believe a “draw” is better for the candidate perceived to be ahead. If that’s the case, then the polls will continue their Obama drift. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the polls don’t move much in either direction because neither candidate gave a reason why voters ought to stop listening and make their decision now. There are two more debates and this one was good enough that they may see audiences build on this one,” Chuck Todd, MSNBC.com
“I’d guess the CW will be that McCain won on points, with nothing close to a knockout, and I’d echo that judgment. McCain had Obama on the defensive over earmark requests and his $800 billion in new spending, then later on the surge and those rogue-leader meetings. Obama did do a decent job shifting the focus back to the original invasion of Iraq and was effective at highlighting Bush’s serial foreign-policy failures (North Korean nukes, Iranian centrifuges, growing Chinese influence), but was generally less punchy and more reactive,” Noam Scheiber, The New Republic
“McCain won tonight’s first debate. He appeared strong, seasoned, and resolute. But he was supposed to win. This was his strong suit. Obama didn’t press McCain as hard as he could have. Let me make one thing clear: Obama did not bomb it. Some might say by holding his own it’s a win for Obama, McCain simply seemed much more solid. This solidity comes from years of experience because when you have been through as much as Senator McCain has, adversity never leaves one where it finds them,” Andrea Tantaros, FOX News
“There were no campaign shattering gaffes or super killer sound-bytes, which leads me to believe that tonight’s debate wasn’t much of a game changer. McCain may benefit a bit in the short term, but tomorrow morning he’s also going to have to return to talking about the economic crisis – a subject that has given him fits all week,” Tom Brevan, Real Clear Politics
“I’d say: small, Pyrrhic victory for McCain. McCain wanted to make Obama seem naive and inexperienced. He did about 40% of that. Obama wanted to make McCain seem dangerously ambitious, bellicose and hotheaded. He did 0% of that. But a) the foreign policy stuff came after a long period on the economy, where McCain seemed a bit frenetic and Obama had the upper hand; and b) Obama didn’t seem non-credible, which may be enough to carry him through given all the other advantages he has,” Mickey Kaus, Slate.com
“If minds are made up based on tonight’s debate, voter priorities seem to favor Obama. But McCain’s most important accomplishment, sewing doubt about Obama’s readiness to lead, could reap rewards in the two remaining meetings between the nominees,” Reid Wilson, Real Clear Politics
“Partisans on both sides saw bright spots and ultimate success for their candidate. But it’s likely that this race will continue as it has. Both accomplished much of what they hoped to do, without any serious mistakes. Voters likely saw attractive qualities in each of them. So round one will give way to round two and perhaps a clearer outcome. But as with much of the rest of this presidential race, these are two well-matched candidates, and each has something to say,” Dan Balz, The Washington Post
“Obama came out ahead. … He didn’t have a knock out moment. This was a draw. [But] it gets out of the way a potential liability. I’d be surprised if McCain had a bounce from this,” Charles Krauthammer, FOX News
“In the closing minutes, Sen. McCain said his foe doesn’t have the ‘knowledge or experience’ to run national-security policy. Sen. Obama said his opponent doesn’t seem to understand that it has been a mistake to focus so much American time and treasure on Iraq when, ‘In the meantime, [Osama] bin Laden is still out there.’ The differences are real, and weren’t hidden on the Mississippi stage Friday night,” Gerald F. Seib, The Wall Street Journal
“Ultimately, sadly, these debates are won, or lost, on style and perceptions of character—not substance. Those are matters of taste. We’ll see if McCain seemed too old or Obama too young. Obama did speak in a stronger, firmer voice. He was clear, straightforward and not at all professorial. He looked directly into the camera; McCain rarely, if ever, did. But McCain put his experience—his frequent travels overseas—to good use in this debate, although his standard laugh lines like “Miss Congeniality” seemed to bomb,” Joe Klein, Time.com
“McCain is closer to the political middle on spending, energy, and the conduct of the Iraq war. McCain had better emotion, and better historical anecdotes and perspective. But Obama looked good, spoke smoothly, and showed a savvy willingness to copycat popular Republican positions, on such issues as energy and missile defense,” James Pinkerton, FOX News
“Both avoided their negative stereotypes: Obama did not seem aloof or condescending. McCain did not seem erratic or wild. You could imagine either one of them in the Oval Office, but only one is going to get there … “I don’t need any on-the-job training,” McCain said. “I am ready to go at it right now.” He certainly seemed like it Friday night,” Roger Simon, Politico.com
“McCain repeatedly asserted that on foreign-policy issues Obama “didn’t understand.” But Obama didn’t look like a man who didn’t understand. McCain was essentially calling Obama a Sarah Palin—but Obama didn’t look like one. He walked back his position on meeting with rogue leaders as far as he credibly could, and he was clear about when he would use military force, which balanced out his talk about diplomacy,” John Dickerson, Slate.com
“I did not learn much new about either candidate tonight. I thought Senator McCain made some points that made him look presidential in the area of foreign affairs. But Senator Obama had more detail on many of the issues. Obama warmed up towards the end of the debate. Obama was first out of the gate with the words Usama bin Laden which was a definite point for him,” Ellen Ratner, FOX News
“Winning isn’t enough. To gain from a presidential debate, there must be sound bites that appear on TV day after day and show your opponent in an unfavorable or embarrassing light. John McCain was better than Barack Obama in their first presidential debate last night. But the debate produced no knockout sound bites–none I noticed anyway–that might harm Obama’s campaign. So McCain’s win isn’t likely to affect the presidential race,” Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard
“A dead heat for the most part — but John McCain ends weaker when attacking Obama. And Obama ends stronger by staying positive. But final conclusion: no game changing moment,” Lanny Davis, FOX News
“Friday night was not a transformational moment like the first Kennedy-Nixon debate. Some swing voters may have found McCain mean or Obama green. But most voters — and this is an impressionistic guess — may have regarded the Oxford debate merely as the slow-starting first act of a potentially gripping three-act drama, one likely to end with fireworks and fisticuffs at Hofstra University on Oct. 15,” Walter Shapiro, Salon.com
“If the night was a tie, the tie went to Obama. That was certainly how the Obama people tried to frame it – that the debate was on foreign policy, which McCain has stressed as his strength. McCain has the resume. More than that, he has the frequent flier miles. McCain mentioned that he’d been in Georgia, that he’d been in the wild provinces of Pakistan, that he’d been in Afghanistan and Iraq and everywhere but Osama bin Laden’s personal cave. But if McCain says Obama got the surge wrong, Obama says that McCain got the entire war wrong,” Mike Littwin, Rocky Mountain News
“There will be plenty of spin about what was said in the first presidential debate. But the focus on the war in Iraq, a war that most Americans think was a mistake and want to see finished, means that — while the night saw no knockout blows — it was Obama who got the debate he wanted and needed,” John Nichols, The Nation
“It was a general election win for Senator Obama in so far as he demonstrated an ability to articulate foreign policy positions. Republicans will now have more difficulty challenging his grasp of foreign affairs. Still, Obama did not flaunt his keen oratorical skills tonight. Perhaps it was the format, or the arid nature of the discussion, but he did not seem as sharp as usual. This is a loss for a man who re
lies so heavily on rhetorical inspiration to win votes,” Christopher Coffey, Republican consultant, FOX News
*McCain’s assertion that the deal was dead was a flat out lie. Boeing sued and won a new review of the project so they still have a shot of winning it. Boeing argued that the contract was written unfairly to give European company Airbus an advantage in winning the bid. It would have been heavenly if Obama had pointed out McCain was for a European company over Boeing, based here in the US. And I know this because I’m a St. Louisan. Boeing is one the largest employers in St. Louis and we want that damn tanker deal. Perhaps I should write a note to the Obama campaign to slap McCain with this at the next debate which is on the economy.