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What They're Saying

Barack Obama and John McCain Debate on October 7, 2008
A quick round-up of what the talking heads thought of last night's debate:

MSNBC's Chuck Todd (AKA: Sabu)
Obama started out strong and was surprisingly aggressive with McCain. I don't know that he missed an opportunity in the first 40 minutes of the debate to attack McCain. And, yet, despite the attacks by Obama, McCain may end up being viewed as the more negative candidate since he sounded so defensive early on and he had the awkward "that one" moment. Obama was also more attuned to the format, constantly framing his answers for average or regular voters.

CNN's Mark Preston:
John McCain entered Tuesday's presidential debate needing Barack Obama to stumble or in the very least the GOP nominee had to deliver a performance that could help change the direction of the campaign.

It didn't happen.

Talking Point Memo's Greg Sargent:
The debate's relatively low-key tone, combined with a series of exchanges that Obama won by at minimum a marginal amount, translate into a clear, even decisive win for Obama tonight. There's no point in mincing words: Time is running out for McCain.

As multiple observers have pointed out, McCain needed to jar the electorate into seeing this race in a new way. It isn't even clear if McCain even tried to do this tonight -- there was no moment where he appeared to make an aggressive bid to take down Obama or grab the initiative. McCain did try to hit Obama by saying that the presidency is no time for "on the job training," but the attack was a stale one that we've heard before. There was no mention of the words "William Ayers."

Associated Press:
McCain likes the give and take of town-hall forums, and he managed to fire off a few zingers. "Nailing down Senator Obama's various tax proposals," he said, "is like nailing Jell-O to the wall."

But the tall stools on stage were better suited to Obama's lanky frame, allowing him to rest easily and stare with seeming bemusement when he felt McCain was stretching the truth.

Taking issue with a description of his tax plans, Obama said, "You know, Senator McCain, I think the 'Straight Talk Express' lost a wheel on that one."

FOX News:
"(It was) an amazing development in the middle of nowhere, obviously an attempt by McCain at a game changer," columnist Charles Krauthammer told FOX News.

But it comes as even Obama is soliciting new ideas on the economy from his advisers. Democratic vice presidential running mate Joe Biden suggested Wednesday that McCain's proposal to buy mortgages wasn't one of those new ideas.

Fox News Political Consultants:
Chris Coffey, Republican Consultant
A Style Over Substance Win For Obama but McCain Stays In the Game

Senator Obama won, but there is still hope for the McCain campaign. Don't get me wrong, many of Obama's proposals threaten the economy, however his eloquence and lithe presentation delivered victory.

Style over substance... but a win is a win.

Andrea Tantaros, Republican Political Commentator

McCain was tough but he didn't deliver a knockout. He did what he needed to do which was step up his game and avoid error. He was solid where it counted: the economy, and convincing voters he's ready on day one. His latest, and seemingly last minute, proposal to have the government spend billions to buy failing mortgages could turn around the ship if messaged effectively in the days that follow. But it could be kryptonite with fiscal conservatives.

As the frontrunner Obama needed to hold the line tonight, and he did. He likely won favor with undecided voters and women because of his ability to motivate through emotion and tap into the emotional component of viewers' personal values. He earned extra credit for his cool, confident demeanor.

The ruling? McCain won some rounds but the bout goes to Obama.

John Avlon, Author, "Independent Nation"

McCain is lucky that the debate ended on foreign policy — he has never been stronger or more eloquent on the subject, particularly in his closing statement. But Obama owned the economic portion of the debate — which is the most urgent in this election — showing greatly improved ability to connect with voters and frame his policy positions in ways that are relevant to people's lives. They both also started making the missing "fiscal responsibility" argument in this economic crisis. Advantage Obama.

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