Tough one to call. At the beginning I was a bit glum, since I thought McCain had the better of the early exchanges. The Joe the Plumber stuff was pretty effective (the first time). I felt McCain seemed forceful and confident, and he was pretty successful at fitting his criticisms into his answers. Obama took his usual supercool, do not engage approach, but this left him on the defensive.
But the tide definitely turned toward Obama as the night wore on. It became more and more obvious that McCain was struggling to remember his lines, and his tone was frequently snide, condescending, and desperate. The Joe the Plumber stuff, moving the first time, got reduced to just another cynical tactic by the fourth or fifth time he went to that well. The part where McCain could not remember Michelle Obama’s name and referred to her simply as “your wife” was also telling.
On the abortion issue, both were lying through their teeth in denying their lack of a litmus test for Supreme Court judges. Choosing the correct justice is one of the main bones a President can throw to his base, and neither is going to spend political capital doing something unnecessarily courageous. Frankly, I don’t see what’s so terrible about having a litmus test. It’s not as if passing the litmus test on abortion is the only criterion a President will use in selecting a justice.
On the substance of the answer, I thought Obama was excellent. He forthrightly defended abortion rights but added that common ground can be found in taking steps to try to reduce the number of abortions. Exactly the right position. McCain, on the other hand, chose to mock the idea of having a health of the mother exception on late-term abortions. As if women and doctors are desperately looking for excuses to terminate their late-term pregnancies, and will exploit any weakness in the law to do that.
Obama was far more convincing on health care as well. His policy proposals make a lot of sense and were delivered well. McCain looked lost on the issue.
So, we’ll have to wait and see. Did other folks think McCain landed some shots? Or did they think he looked mopey and truculent through most of it? In the past it has seemed that voters prefer Obama’s cool approach over McCain’s histrionics. Hopefully that trend will continue.