And The Loser Is...

This debate. And Tom Brokaw.

We were promised an interactive "town hall," where audience member could quiz the candidates live, and Brokaw would channel the questions submitted by citizens online. Obama and McCain, freed from podiums, might mix it up.

Instead, the patient undecideds surrounding the candidates were barely allowed a peep - let alone a follow-up or reaction shot (unless one of the Senators happened to stand close by). Given the unprecedented number of new voters this cycle, one would think our presidential debates would find a way to incorporate them significantly (over the internet, perhaps?). Nope: the dozens of "real people," as political operatives call them, were mere props on a TV set. And Brokaw chided the Senators if they attempted to do something interesting.

Debate organizers failed. Considering our national crisis and record voter registration, Americans are giving their political process more attention than ever. But they certainly weren't rewarded by tuning into tonight's debate.

Update [2008-10-8 0:13:7 by Josh Orton]: And off topic: you know you can't stand Andrew Sullivan when you find even his Obama praise insufferable. Ugh, at least I didn't have to watch him on television.

Update [2008-10-8 0:27:1 by Josh Orton]: By the way, I totally agree with Todd and Jonathan: McCain needed to move the race and he didn't. We were all bracing for McCain to go way negative, but he never did. McCain is too short on time to keep losing debates.

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Post-Debate Thread

A few initial impressions. First, and most important, John McCain failed to make the most of this opportunity -- one of his last -- to fundamentally change the direction of this race. Nothing, and I mean nothing, occurred tonight that will put McCain back in the driver's seat of this campaign, let alone help him retake a lead.

Beyond that, McCain had some serious optics problems during the debate. McCain's lurking in the background was truly Cheney-esque, and that's just not a good likeness for the GOP nominee. And McCain's extreme derisiveness towards Barack Obama, unwilling to call him by name, instead only calling him "that one," seriously undercuts the notion that McCain can be a cool operator on the world stage. Note also that Obama's jokes did connect with the audience -- he got a nice chuckle towards the end of the debate when he said that Michelle could easily list all of the things he doesn't know -- while the only laugh McCain earned during all of his botched jokes over the course of the debate was from Tom Brokaw.

As for memorable exchanges, Obama speaking about his mother stands out in particular, though this retort to McCain, which Josh caught, was highly effective as well.

Again, a marginal win for Obama, or perhaps a draw -- either of which represents a loss for McCain considering that the window to change the direction of this race is closing. What did you think?

Update [2008-10-7 22:41:40 by Todd Beeton]:And McCain's most shameful moment of the debate:

Even Wolf Blitzer said it was obvious that John McCain has "disdain" for Barack Obama.

Update [2008-10-7 22:45:46 by Josh Orton]: From the Obama campaign:

“Barack Obama won a resounding victory in John McCain’s favorite debate format because he made the case for change that will rebuild the middle class. The American people asked tough questions tonight, and only Barack Obama was is in touch with their struggles and offered clear and passionate answers about creating jobs, reducing health care costs, cutting taxes for 95% of working families, and responsibly ending the war in Iraq. John McCain was all over the map on the issues, and he is so angry about the state of his campaign that he referred to Barack Obama as ‘that one’ – last time he couldn’t look at Senator Obama, this time he couldn’t say his name. The McCain campaign said, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,’ and John McCain definitely lost tonight,” said Obama-Biden campaign manager David Plouffe.

Update [2008-10-7 22:48:12 by Todd Beeton]:Rachel Maddow: "I think Barack Obama won by virtue of the fact that he conducted himself as though John McCain wasn;t there."

Update [2008-10-7 22:53:6 by Jonathan Singer]: Per Norah O'Donnell, Barack Obama won the NBC News undecided focus group about 60-40.

Update [2008-10-7 22:53:6 by Jonathan Singer]: Obama narrowly won the CNN undecided focus group as well.

Update [2008-10-7 22:59:17 by Jonathan Singer]: More actual results... CBS polling of undecided voters gave Obama the win by a 39 percent to 27 percent margin, with another 35 percent rating the debate a tie. Another wasted opportunity for the McCain campaign.

Update [2008-10-7 23:8:6 by Jonathan Singer]: GQR focus group of undecideds split 42 percent for Obama at the end versus 24 percent for McCain.

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Josh Debate Thread

Newest posts on top - earlier ones below the fold...

  • Does McCain seem a little...odd tonight?
  • Only two minutes left. Mercy.
  • I'm not sure what the total number of viewers for this debate will be, but I bet a huge number changed the channel after a few minutes. Is anyone enjoying this format?
  • McCain lied about sending troops into Lebanon
  • Ambinder: McCain: "There are some things that Obama just doesn't understand" in re: foreign policy... Obama turns it around: "I don't understand how we ended up invading the country that had nothing to do with 9/11..."
  • It's bizarre that during the first debate, Lehrer practically begged the candidates to engage with each other - now Brokaw seems to be ragging them for engaging. Ugh.
  • BO on McCain taxing employer health benefit: "what one hand giveth, the other taketh away"
  • "That one??"
  • Brokaw keeps complaining about time limits. Lame.
  • Great energy answer from Obama
  • Is it just me, or is the mustache ratio in the town hall audience off the charts?

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Jonathan's Debate Thread

Here we go...

  • Is it just me or is McCain getting the last word significantly more often than Obama? Is there parity here?
  • That's about the toughest hit on McCain -- the "Bomb Iran" song, etc. McCain saying "not true"? It's real tough to say you didn't say it when everyone has seen the tape.
  • Going back a second, Ambinder catches one of the key contrasts of this election: "McCain: Health care is a privilege. Obama: health care is a right."
  • I have to think that McCain is the first ever presidential candidate to talk about his need for hair plugs...
  • Now McCain is lurking in the background -- Cheney-like, in fact. I feel a major aspect of the SNL debate skit coming on...

Previous updates below the fold...

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The Terms Of The Debate

Taking a look at the guidelines the two campaigns have agreed upon for tonight's townhall style debate, there is little hope for any fireworks or spontaneous moments. The two campaigns' debate negotiators have made sure of that.

From Lynn Sweet:

Tuesday's match-up at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., will be moderated by NBC's Tom Brokaw, with the questions to be culled from a group of 100 to 150 uncommitted likely voters in the audience and another one-third to come via the Internet. The Gallup Organization -- as in past debates like this -- has the job of making sure the questioners reflect the demographic makeup of the nation.

Brokaw selects the questions to ask from written queries submitted prior to the debate, according to the "contract."

An audience member will not be allowed to switch questions. Under the deal, the moderator may not ask followups or make comments. The person who asks the question will not be allowed a follow-up either, and his or her microphone will be turned off after the question is read. A camera shot will only be shown of the person asking -- not reacting.

While there will be director's chairs (with backs and foot rests), McCain and Obama will be allowed to stand -- but they can't roam past their "designated area" to be marked on the stage. McCain and Obama are not supposed to ask each other direct questions.

The media can't seem to discuss this debate without insisting that the forum favors McCain. He is the self-professed townhall king, after all, having challenged Barack to a crapload of these things this summer.

The Obama campaign is, rightly, playing up these expectations.

When it comes to sheer format, we enter today's debate the decided underdog.  John McCain does extremely well in town hall settings. It's been his favorite format throughout his career and we think that he will of course do very well.

The McCain campaign for their part is previewing the tone McCain is likely to strike tonight.

McCain, 72, will try to leaven his attacks with humor, said Republican campaign aides, some of whom plan to wear cufflinks with a mock Obama presidential seal. McCain and his surrogates will be ``aggressive truth tellers'' on debate night, said senior adviser Nicolle Wallace. ``I don't accept the premise that that makes the campaign negative.''

And while McCain's demeanor is likely to be a big improvement over his first debate performance, honestly, having seen McCain in action at these townhalls, part of his thing is having a dialogue with the questioner and taking follow-up after follow-up, as if to say "see, I'm not afraid of your stinkin questions." He won't be able to do that tonight. Also, no one talks about how good Barack Obama is in these townhalls. If he is stiff in debates, in townhall settings he's much looser; the interaction allows his personality to come through more.

All of that having been said, I do suspect that McCain has lowered the bar for his performance to such depths that the whole expectations game might actually be a wash. While McCain's insistence on a series of townhalls should signal that the McCain campaign sees the format as a strength, the fact is people think the Democrats have done better than the Republicans in the debates.

By a 21 point margin, 50%-29%, voters said the Democrats had the debate edge over rival Republican running mates John McCain and Sarah Palin, while 10% of respondents said the two tickets were equally as good and 4% said neither was good.

That is likely to carry over into expectations for Barack tonight.

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