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The Debate That Almost Wasn't

Updated on February 12, 2009

Which Candidate Won The First Presidential Debate?

Based upon their performance, which candidate do you believe won the first Presidential Debate?

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Senator Barack Obama
Senator Barack Obama

Both Candidates Exceed Expectations


Bull Moose Magazine Publisher

OK, I've got to admit that I was really looking forward to the first of three Presidential debates because I was so looking forward to watching John McCain crash and burn in a most inspirational way. I mean, with the erratic way McCain had been behaving the past couple of weeks leading up to the debate, such a scenario was plausible. Unfortunately, I didn't get what I was seeking. And so McCain, whose campaign was teetering on the very edge of a deep, dark abyss, has managed to find stable ground, for now.

That's not to say, John, that I think you have successfully righted the ship. Not by a long shot, because I also believe that Barack Obama performed better than I had expected. So I don't see you gaining in the polls, based solely on your performance.

Both candidates had their high points and low points. I'll start with Barack Obama, but don't worry John...I've got plenty for you!

Barack, my friend, I've got to remind you that John McCain is the enemy here, and his Republican handlers will use your words against you eight days a week! So next time, please, please, please, please, PLEASE do not talk about how "right" McCain is about anything, even if you follow up such comments with contrasting information that was your main message any way! I mean, you may have scored a few points for diplomacy, but I can just imagine Karl Rove and his henchmen giggling with glee as the video editor was cutting and splicing your words to put into their advertisement that was released immediately after the debate. We don't need to give them anything they can shoot in your direction.

On the other hand, Obama did send a message to voters who previously considered him to be too soft on international affairs. He correctly reminded Americans that it was Osama Bin Laden who ordered the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., and made it very clear that he would go to any length (including crossing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to capture and "kill" Bin Laden, if the Pakistani government was unwilling or unable to do so.) I was particularly moved by his use of the word kill, because if Obama were truly too soft, he would simply say capture, leaving the door open that Bin Laden could live.

Obama also came off as much more diplomatic than McCain. While Obama discussed the need for top-level diplomacy between the United States and rogue regimes such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela he reminded everyone that McCain was seen singing "Bomb Iran." Yes, John, we saw you smirk after that gaffe, but we also noticed that you did not respond to that barb.

Now let's talk about McCain. I can't be the only one who noticed that McCain could not bring himself to even glance at Obama during this debate, even as the two men shook hands before and after the debate. It made McCain look inflexible, rigid, and not just a bit childish, as it reminded me of my two oldest children who fight like cats and dogs.

There was inconsistency in McCain's message too. On one hand, he tried to paint the picture of Obama having the most liberal voting record in the Senate (a charge they also leveled against John Kerry four years ago) but later trying to compare Barack Obama to George Bush! McCain said Obama's inflexibility to believe that the surge in Iraq was working reminds him of Bush. Obama, wisely, countered with the fact that McCain has supported the President with 90 percent of his votes over the past eight years.

There was a bit of role reversal going on, too. Going into the debate, pundits cautioned that Obama should not be too professorial, talking down to McCain. However, McCain tried time and time again to suggest that Obama doesn't understand various nuances of foreign policy, and the more often he tried that tactic, it seemed that he was the one who was preaching. Obama, meanwhile, seemed to be in command of his information, which made me feel comfortable that Obama would not be a foreign policy liability, like George W. Bush.

All in all, I think both candidates came away from the debate with enough to feel good about, but each wishing they could have hit the proverbial home run on multiple occasions. In the end, I believe Obama scored a victory because his standing in the polls has not suffered in the aftermath of this debate. As I write this, CNN's poll of polls has Obama leading 48 to 43 with 9 percent undecided. CBS/New York Times has Obama leading 47 to 42 with 11 percent undecided. Even the rabidly conservative Fox News poll has Obama leading 45 to 39 with 16 percent undecided. Lastly, CNN reports the latest Marist College poll has Obama with 49, McCain with 44 and 7 percent undecided.

There's another good reason why I feel optimistic about Obama's chances on November 4, and that is because Sarah Palin gets to go up against Joe Biden on Thursday. I can hardly wait!


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    • crashcromwell profile image

      crashcromwell 9 years ago from Florida

      Yeah! That's the strategy! She's been bumbling around looking completely clueless to lower expectations for the debate!

    • profile image

      pgrundy 9 years ago

      I predict Palin will do well in the debate. My reasoning is that 1) expectations of her are so low at this point that anything better than stepping on stage and falling into a cow patty will seem like a huge success, and 2) Joe Biden can't really be harsh with her or he'll be seen as 'mean'.

      Biden's best bet would be to throw her a lot of questions and try to get her to answer them. But we all know how likes to talk. So I think she will actually come off pretty well, which will not make me happy--I just think it won't be as much of a train wreck as people are expecting right now.

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 9 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      McCain disappointed me greatly with his smugness, and I found him ill-tempered at best.  He did OK on some answers, and Obama could have been better as well.  I don't like thinking one or the other candidate "won" a debate.  The number of people who decide for one or the other is the actual test of how well a candidate did.  Obama's number seem to be going up, while McCain's seem to be going down.

      However, how much of this was due to media hype remains to be seen.  I would rather people decide for themselves, but that is asking for too much.

      In my opinion I am reinforced in selecting Obama over McCain and I hope others will come to see this the same way.

      I am also curious to see how Thursday's VP Debate goes.  I would love to see Palin speak without teleprompters and figure out just exactly where her mind is. 

      I am also predicting that she will be gone from the ticket either just before or after that debate.  She may cite family issues as the reason.

      I also think that would be too bad, just another McCain misstep on the way to not becoming the next president.  But if it helps Obama, then I am for it either way.

    • profile image

      pgrundy 9 years ago

      Great analysis. I thought McCain did better on foreign policy than he did on the economy (getting rid of the capital gains tax is going to help this horrifying Wall Street meltdown? Say what? And what do earmarks have to do with the housing bubble, dude!?) , but his foul demeanor ruined whatever good points he had to make. He was so massively disrespectful and hateful towards Obama that that is what most people came away remembering, and the polls show it. I hope the trend continues. And yes, the Palin/Biden debate ought to be interesting to say the least.