Saturday, September 27, 2008

Who Won Presidential Debate #1: Takeaways

Andrew Sullivan has a good run-down on the substantive discussion in the debates and who won that. But since most people decide Presidents based on "moments" rather than substance, here's what I think were the major top-level takeways from the debate:

1. Obama is clearly more passionate and knowledgeable about the economy. McCain is clearly more passionate and knowledgeable about war. The public has to decide: do they want a war President, or an economic President? My suspicion is, this year, we've finally tired of war, and want to do something about the economy.

2. The CNN reaction ticker was interesting. When McCain talked, the Republican, Independent, and Democratic lines separately widely. When Obama talked, the lines all tacked together - or if the Republican line drifted away (particularly when Obama talked about spending), the Independent line tracked with the Democrats. McCain clearly divides the country. Obama clearly unites the country, most of the time, and when he doesn't, the Independents are with him.

3. Obama's test: can he seem plausible as Commander in Chief? He lapsed into wonkiness occasionally, but he interrupted at the right times to make his point, and sounded sure of himself, so he passed.

4. McCain's test: is he too much of a lose cannon to be trusted? He passed, but barely. His constant refrain that Obama isn't ready made McCain seem a bit too much like Sarah Palin: someone who has to stick to talking points because he has no real point to make. But he was better at the heart-warming bracelet stories than Obama was, and drew a line in the sand on torture. He may drag us into a stupid war but he came off human-like enough, and at least we know that unlike Bush, he'll show up at the military funerals.

5. Obama's biggest mistake? He still doesn't really sell the "talking to unscrupulous leaders" point well (even though I think he's right on the substance of it), and had an opportunity - twice - to say Israel must survive and smash Ahmadinejad's anti-semitism. He took a pass, and Jewish voters will notice, and not like it.

6. McCain's biggest mistake? Harping on that slashing earmarks will save our economy. Voters may be dumb, but when you're kicking them out of their houses, they prick up their ears and listen for real answers. What they heard from McCain was another gimmick, and then sticking to his gimmick. Not reassuring.

In sum:

Keeping in mind Presidents aren't elected by popular vote but state-by-state run downs, did the debate shift any of the swing-state dynamics?

Obama probably lost Florida as the Jewish vote swings massively to McCain, didn't do much to help himself in McCain-loving New Hampshire, and ran down some of his comfortable margin in NJ and NY, but solidified his crucial hold on the iffy rust-belt states: Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He also kept Ohio strongly in play for him, maybe even Indiana. Conversely, with Obama sounding convincing as commander in chief, McCain failed to change his downward dynamics in Colorado and Virginia.

In the end, yes, we did go twelve rounds without a knockout. And both opponents scored points. But I have to give it narrowly to Obama: on the ground level, Obama did more what he needed to do than McCain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The debate was bland to me. Obama should go for the jungular. Each time McCain harps about you don't understand, he should respond, what you seem to forget or understand is that we started the war on a lie. When McCain say cut back spending, he should respond, do you understand how much the war in Iraq is costing? I am social newsing this post on: - exposing the dirt on Sarah Palin! - crowd powered news for the Barack Obama nation