Presidential Debates: Round One

The first presidential debate is over. What were your impressions? How did each candidate do? Were you surprised by anything? If you were undecided before the debate - are you still undecided or did the performances tonight help you choose your guy? Was there a clear winner?


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  2. Most of the post-debate coverage I've seen has credited both candidates with strong performances in tonight's debate. I probably would have given a slight edge to McCain. However, foreign policy is supposed to be McCain's strong suit and Obama clearly held his own - which may work out to a net loss for McCain. The Obama campaign is probably pretty excited right now.

    Several of the networks were conducting instant polls with groups of undecided voters. All of the instant polls I've seen - including one conducted by Frank Luntz for Fox - have shown Obama winning the debate. I'm a little surprised by this, though perhaps I shouldn't be since I am not an undecided voter and, presumably, the undecideds were judging as much on substance as on style.

    It was also interesting to see two dominant narratives emerge from the debate. Obama repeatedly questioned McCain's "judgment." McCain, who had moved away from the experience argument since choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, brought it back tonight. I'll make the next debate a drinking game and take a drink every time McCain says Obama is "naive" and "just doesn't understand."

    I think Jim Lehrer did a really good job moderating. He knows how to get out of the way and let the candidates speak. I also liked the free-flowing style of tonight's debate. It seemed weird to me though that McCain never looked at Obama, when the agreed-upon format called for the candidates to engage directly with one another.

    I guess my biggest disappointment is that the debate was limited to so few topics. While Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, and terrorism will be key challenges for the next president, foreign policy encompasses much more. I would have liked the candidates and the moderator to broaden the discussion to include other issues of foreign policy. (I expected this especially from Obama, and not just because he's the candidate I support.) There was no mention of specific issues like the Middle East peace process (or lack of one), Darfur, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and others. There was also little discussion of the candidate's fundamental views of globalization and America's role in a shrinking world.

    Granted, there was only 90 minutes available for the debate and one-third of it was dedicated to the financial emergency. Still, foreign policy is complex and we don't know what issues the next president will face. It would be nice to know the lenses through which each candidate will view the job of Leader of the Free World.

  3. I think that this article in the Washington Post was insightful.


    No clear winner. But I think that Barak deferred to McCain a bit much.

  4. Larry,

    That was an interesting article. Thanks for posting it.

    One consensus is emerging, not from the debate itself but from the post-debate analysis: the chattering class loves boxing metaphors.

  5. I consider Obama the winner, if for no other reason than he didn't say anything as random as North Koreans being three inches shorter than South Koreans. And while I understand the comment as a reference to malnutrition in that country, the way he said it out of context only seemed to make him sound random, at best, and bigoted, at worst.


  6. I also didn't think there was a clear winner, and I found all pretty unexciting. I was kind of hoping something crazy would happen or be said, just to shake things up a little. I definitely giggled before I could stop myself when McCain cut in so randomly with the S. vs. N. Korean height comment, although I must give him credit for knowing that (which was probably what he was trying to prove--that he has intimate knowledge of such statistics). I'm a Korean-American myself, and I had no idea. I didn't get any sense of it as a "bigoted" comment, though. Just random and a little forced.

  7. It bothered me that McCain never once made eye contact with Obama during the debate. Whether he was coached to do that or not, it came off like he was personally intimidated by Obama.