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the tie goes to obama

by Archives September 30, 2008

Friday’s debate was supposed to be home court advantage for McCain. It was one of only three debates between the two remaining candidates and was entirely devoted to McCain’s strength: foreign policy.
With all the dangers we face around the world, McCain’s experience is comforting to some Americans. He has capitalized with a tough stand against Russian aggression and a successful effort to connect his support of the troop surge with the reduction of violence in Iraq.
Friday night should have been the next turning point in the back-and-forth pendulum of the election polls; stopping Obama’s economic crisis-driven momentum. But it wasn’t.
First, McCain’s campaign caused a distraction in the 48 hours leading up to the debate with his call to postpone it in order to help deal with the economic bailout. The move was intended to show his leadership, but was confusing, as he does not sit on any of the relevant committees.
Until shortly before the event, the media was unsure if the debate was even happening, even though the organizers had no intention of cancelling. Finally, McCain caved, and his gamble, added to the media obsession with the bailout fight, took the attention away from the debate’s substance in the days before and after. Even if McCain had dominated Obama – the effect on the electorate was stunted from the start.
Second, the financial crisis forced moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS to waste the first 40 minutes of the debate discussing the candidates’ stances. Both candidates danced around the questions, and repeated the same talking points and buzz words we’ve heard over the last week, as if terrified to say the wrong thing.
It was annoying to hear Wall Street vs. Main Street for the hundredth time, and bold statements like Obama’s “$700 billion, potentially, is a lot of money,” or McCain’s “This isn’t the beginning of the end of this crisis. This is the end of the beginning.” McCain even repeated his old jokes, about paternity tests for bears in Montana and not being Miss Congeniality of the Senate, which were greeted by silence as the crowd was told to not make any noise.
Finally, when the debate moved to foreign policy, Obama actually managed to stand his ground. To Obama’s benefit, one of the moderator’s first questions was on the lessons of the Iraq war. This was an easy lay-up opportunity for Obama, not only to remind Americans that Iraq was a bad idea in the first place, but to attack McCain for his initial support of the Bush Administration’s 2003 invasion.
“John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007,” Obama said. “You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy.”
For the rest of the debate, McCain pulled out all the stops with encyclopedic name-dropping of countries most of us have never heard of, and relentless attacks on Obama delivered without a glance to his opponent. But Obama was able to generally find an answer to most of what McCain threw at him. It was surely a pleasant surprise to his supporters when McCain described a bracelet that had been given to him by a woman who had lost a son in Iraq, and Obama retorted with “I’ve got a bracelet, too.”
Post-debate polls showed more people thought Obama had won than McCain. But more important than polls is the narrative the next day, which generally found that there was no clear winner.
Considering what this debate should have been – no clear winner is a big loss for Senator John McCain.

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