The good news for both Presidential candidates tonight is that neither committed a mortal, self-inflicted wound, and neither threw a knockout punch. The debate was close for the first forty minutes while they were discussing the economy, but then John McCain pulled away to a comfortable win.
To score the event, I used a “Debate Scoring Sheet” rubric from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I found it during a Google search, and it seemed a fair tool to evaluate both men. (www.lmu.edu if you wish to review!)
After ranking the candidates on a series of questions and rebuttals on a scale of 1 through 10, the scores were added up and divided by 10. McCain won with a debate score of 7.8 versus 6.9 for Obama. Some of the evaluative criteria were: Clear, well organized, factual, relevant, preparedness and professionalism.
The candidates started pretty even, discussing the U.S. economic crisis as it relates to global issues. Obama started off more confidently. McCain seemed nervous and puzzled, with some labored breathing. He relaxed as time went on, and then it was Obama who struggled, giving sometime rambling answers. The nice thing was that they actually debated and sparred in some areas, unlike the many previous stilted Presidential debates of the past. This was a pretty good, spirited contest.
Moderator Jim Lehrer tried to pin them down on whether either supported the current bailout plan before Congress. Both evaded, though - upon further pressing by Lehrer - McCain said, “I hope so,” in terms of supporting a bill that passes. Obama won empathy points by talking about how the economic crisis affected “ordinary Americans.” He also said, “We’ve heard about Wall Street. Those of you on Main Street have been struggling for a while.” But McCain probably made policy point with the public by hammering on the idea of cutting wasteful spending in Washington. When McCain suggested a freeze on much of federal spending, Obama criticized him for using a “hatchet instead of a scalpel.” It may have been the Illinois Senator’s best line of the night
The debate was originally to be about foreign policy only, but the economic portion was added. That helped Obama, because he was clearly outgunned on foreign policy and military discussions. McCain probably had the best line of the night on that issue when he said, “I looked into Putin’s eyes and saw three letters, K.G.B.” On Iran he said of Obama’s willingness to negotiate, “This isn’t just naïve, it’s dangerous.” Obama, for his part, promised a foreign policy with a “stronger strategic vision than the past eight years.”
In the end, McCain came across as much more confident and sure of himself than he did at the start. Obama was knocked off balance and seemed defensive on foreign affairs.
McCain’s other good line was “I didn’t win Miss Congeniality in the U.S. Senate,” when he talked of blocking pork-barrel projects, especially those of fellow Republicans.
To me, the most striking moment came when McCain, trying to show he was a GOP rebel, noted that he had opposed President Reagan's sending U.S. Marines into Lebanon back in 1983. Hundreds of them later died in a terrorist attack on their barracks. At the
time, McCain was a freshman in the House of Representatives. Obama was a 22-year-old college student.
The line is simply a metaphor for the gulf of experience between the two candidates.
Overall, McCain won tonight’s debate, but not by a knockout. The candidates have two more debates, in what remains a very close Presidential race.
I will critique all the debates, including next Thursday's VP contest in St. Louis between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin. Tell your friends about www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.