Saturday Obama/McCain post-debate analysis wrap-up

Since I’ve had a little time to reflect and/or watch the debate again after last night’s live blogging chat fiasco, I’ve had the opportunity to review this thing again and pick out some important areas where I though points were made or lost.

First of all, if you haven’t yet, watch the debate in full for yourself and make up your own mind. The entire video is available right here on You Decide 2008:

Video: Obama/McCain debate from Mississippi 9/26

Now, onto my thoughts.

My overall impression is that McCain started off rather slow, bumbling a little over the economic questions of the bailout. His low point at the beginning started with the question of whether he’d support the bailout proposal and he mumbled something like “sure, sure” and kept talking. That was his low point I believe.

Obama gave the same performance throughout the entire time except when he seemed to get a little flustered over McCain’s attacks on him. McCain was kind of chuckling to himself anytime Obama attacked him but Obama seemed visually shaken when returning fire, especially over earmarks.

McCain’s strong points: His ability to tell stories and relate to voters by incorporating them into his answers. He has a way with cutting through the political stuff to hit an emotional response with the viewer. McCain also made it a point to paint Obama as inexperienced by saying “Sen. Obama just doesn’t understand” on issues surrounding military tactics and strategies.

Obama’s strong points: Obama was on his message in linking McCain to what Obama called Bush’s “failed economic policies,” if that resonated with voters he scored something. Furthermore, Obama held his own on foreign policy and sounded well-versed in the issues they were discussing with regard to Pakistan and Iran.

Update by Michael:
For the large part, I tend to agree with Nate’s assessments. I do wish to focus on are the larger tactics and public relations effects from this first debate.

This was the first presidential debate, which was supposed to be on foreign policy and national security. Jim Lehrer begins the debate by arguing that the global economy is part of this domain, and this subtopic dominated nearly half of the debate. There will be only two more presidential debates. The second is a town hall debate on October 7, and then a debate over domestic affairs on October 15.

Being the first debate and with over 57 million watchers (according to Nielsen, which doesn’t even take into account the Internet viewers) McCain and Obama found themselves with a chance to reach new voters. The debate was not for those already in the pockets of either campaign. Both candidates were trying to win over undecideds, which meant that Obama was out to sway the moderate conservatives, and McCain was seeking the moderate liberals. Each candidate was coming in with advantages: McCain was looked upon with an advantage over foreign policy, Obama with an advantage over economics (with recent events in place).

It was expected that both candidates would reintroduce a lot of their stances and slogans. This did not happen very much, which was detrimental to both campaigns.

30-Second Memory:
As was found during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the majority of U.S citizens tend to remember attacks, candidates’ composures, and slogans after the debates. They do not remember the defensive strategies or responses as much, unless the defensive move became an attack (e.g., explaining something antithetical to the opponents claims). To McCain’s credit, he spent more time attacking Obama than defending, which was partly due to Obama’s decision to explain himself more, and attack McCain less.

The verdict on Obama’s decision to agree with McCain on several issues and try to explain himself through various attacks by McCain is still out. Obama might win out due voters remembering his composure, as he could be seen as more conciliatory and calm. Yet, McCain might win in this regard if voters remember the attacks on Obama more than McCain’s composure. Likewise, Obama’s attempts to interrupt McCain’s attacks with “nos” might be seen as important attempts to straighten the record, or simply rude.

PR Effect:
Obama was out to prove he was confident, strong, and intelligent with respects to foreign relations. While he appeared confident and strong at times on terrorism, he did not portray himself as being as opinionated and aware of events around the world as McCain.

Obama’s (and the Democrat’s) winning rhetoric is paralleling McCain to the Bush administration. This was attempted only a few times, and was nominally effective. McCain responded to this with his maverick line, which was moderately effective.

McCain was out to prove he was a maverick out to reform the current administration and gather favor of moderate liberals. He managed this fairly, and played out his energy card.

McCain’s (and the Republican’s) winning rhetoric is displaying Obama as radical and out to tax people. McCain made attempts at this– and Obama did not squarely respond to this. Instead of directly refuting this, Obama made efforts to cite his relations with Republican congressmen and women (so much so that he confused John McCain’s name with Tom Coburn on one occasion). This was too subtle in my opinion.

Neither McCain nor Obama were able to successfully mount a devastating attack on each other. They both campaigned quite successfully during the primaries on their foreign policy platforms (McCain pushing his correct stance on the surge, Obama pushing his correct anti-WMD and war), yet neither one hammered this out during the debate. McCain did not stress his position on the surge and Obama did not contest the very nature of calling the situation in Iraq a U.S war. Ironically,during a debate over foreign relations platforms, both candidates made remarks that might provoke some severe foreign relations problems in the future (e.g., Obama’s remarks on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Pakistan, and McCain’s remarks on Russia).

I feel McCain maintained a slight edge after the debate. Obama spent too much time with explanations (and also reversed or did not push some of his stances on the Middle East). While McCain maintained a slight edge, he needed much more. He won the battle, but as of now, is losing the ‘war’. The town-hall debate should be up in the air, and with a highly unpopular GOP administration, domestic affairs are favored to the Democrat. McCain needed to hit a homerun during this debate and came away with a single.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, is a selection of videos from across the media spectrum with their own post-debate analysis.

First, Frank Luntz with the Fox News focus group:

Next, a look at the candidate’s gestures during the debate from the Today Show on NBC:

Next, CNN’s wrap-up analysis:

Next, Hardball on MSNBC:

Next, CBS News with a group of uncommitted voters watching the debate:

Finally, the Associated Press from the debate spin room wraps it up:

So there you have it, a complete round up from all sides in this election season. Frankly, I think the bottom line is that neither candidate made any blundering mistakes but neither candidate really stood out as a clear victory. McCain may have taken a slight edge depending on the issues you examine but that’s purely subjective depending one what is more important to you as a voter.

Finally, I encourage you watch the entire debate video and decide for yourself. You can do so here if you missed it.

  • I only really watch Frank Luntz and it was interesting to see what he had to say. Kinda hilarious that the only people who thought McCain won was McCain’s people.

    So it seems the ‘general concensus’ actually is McCain did well and Obama did very well.

  • M. D. Anderson

    Sorry I just can’t bring myself to watch these Bozos.
    I know too much about the D & R POTUS candidates to vote for either. I am far more interested in the views of Ralph Nader. Nader has protected the public from corporate greed and faulty products his entire life. Nader is knowledgeable on all the issues. He has the best health care plan, will bring the troops home and cut military waste. Nader has had a lifelong concern for the environment. WHY CAN’T WE HAVE OPEN DEBATES? If either BO or McSame had confidence they would welcome all the candidates in the debates.

  • Todd

    Spin it again Pudding,

    If you paid attention Luntz said they assembled INDEPENDENT VOTERS for the survey.

    NOT Obama and McCain voters

  • Shadybug

    It’s sad when a democrat for over 30 years will be voting for a republican. I also thought that MSMBC was not fair, and balanced. News Stations should always have analysis from both parties, not a vice President nominee. I have noticed for the last 5 years that MSNBC is more democratic, Fox new is more republican, and CNN is probably now the fairest on polotics. Now I’ll be watching CNN for political news.

  • Christopher Schwinger

    Hmm–neither of them were asked about how they want to merge the countries of North America into one entity, which amounts to high treason . . .

    (Not like I expected it.)

  • Shadybug

    ” Correction ” I misspelled the word political.

  • Yes I know Luntz only assembled independent voters, that’s why I only really watch him, but I did watch all the clips above.

    The kinda hilarious comment was aimed at the Associated Press video where Tucker Bounds was blowing smoke up McCains rear and Guilliani was talking out of his.

  • McCain failed in accomplishing what he set out to do, win the debate.

    Even while he was claiming to “suspend” his campaign and forgo the debate because his participation in saving the economy was more important; he was preparing a campaign ad “claiming debate victory”.

    I’ve blogged my response to this at:

    Or, one can go to to see the full compilation of polls, even among republicans, giving the post-debate favorables to Obama.

  • Bob Russell

    First of all, it think it was a travesty that the foreign policy debate (known by all to be McCain’s strong point) was hijacked by the moderator to become 1/2 an economic debate (known to be McCain’s vulnerable topic).

    As a McCain supporter it hurts to say, but I think Obama won the debate in terms of composure and staying on message. (In terms of substance, of course I felt McCain won, but that’s only because I agree with his positions more than Obama’s.)

    Obama often linked McCain to Bush (in fact, so blatantly that I wondered why McCain didn’t point out that Obama must be confused about who he’s debating!) Obama reinforced the misconception among many that McCain is for big business and rich people, and would hurt the middle class and poor. And clearly McCain was not prepared to debate the economic topics. When he was asked how the crisis would affect his presidency and what his plan would be as president, he just wandered on and on without a point other than drilling for energy. That was definitely his low point, and it was painful to watch.

    McCain also did a bad job of pointing out how damaging Obama’s extremely soft foreign policy positions are, and even pre-conditions to negotiations by the head of state, but eventually pounded the point home, and really hit the Obama hard when talking about world politics in various places. Obama looked visibly shaken because he knew nothing (not enough to begin talking in detail with McCain anyway), and had to simply say “I agree with Senator McCain). He looked dumbfounded. That would be the low point for Obama.

    But the main problem with the debate in my mind was that it was not fair. Fairness in these things is supposed to be the moderator’s number one responsibility. Yet he hijacked 1/2 of the debate from the agreed upon foreign policy issue towards a domestic economic policy debate. That’s a foul, and the moderator must have clearly known what he was doing. I think that was dirty and despicable given the clear bias towards the candidates in doing that. He was clearly not interested in fairness.

    Overall, I think Obama was helped a lot more than McCain. Funny thing is that I am convinced that Palin would have hit a home run if she had been in the debate instead of McCain. But we haven’t seen her debate, so that’s still yet to be seen, and Biden is likely to be a much more capable debater than Obama is.

  • Babs

    Initially, I was disappointed that McCain didn’t hit hard on the economic bailout, but then I realized if the deal had been done he probably would have gone into more detail about it. Vintage McCain, keep your cards close to your vest until all ducks are in a row. I was also disappointed he didn’t throw the ACORN insertion into the bill in Obama’s face, because I believe that was Mr. Obama’s little piece of work.

    When I went back over it, I could really see more clearly that McCain will not offer an opinion on the bailout package until it’s done and time to vote. As well, he’ll leave the little ACORN tidbit to surrogates, who’ll have a field day with it.

    On foreign policy, of course McCain won. Obama was scripted and rehearsed on a subject matter he doesn’t have enough experience with to discuss first hand. It was obvious that McCain did, and spoke comfortably from a first person perspective.

    Obama’s sneers and jeers on camera were extremely juvenile by anyone’s standards. The Obama camp was touting they were going to try to make McCain lose his temper in the debate. I’d say the opposite was accomplished. Obama was beside himself more than once.

    I think McCain did what he set out to do – show up, and discuss the issues. Recalling that Obama had days of coaching and practice showed – he was performing. McCain with reportedly a couple of hours of practice, just got up and had a conversation about the issues he’s been dealing with for over 2 decades, issues Obama’s only read about.

    I don’t think there was a winner, because each campaign gauged success as something different. I don’t think it swayed voters one way or the other. It was just a wrestling match, and entertainment for viewers. Nothing new was revealed by either party.

  • McCain came off looking Presidential. He was able to draw out Obama’s inexperience which is the key that will unlock the door over on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The one answer that McCain botched in my humble opinion, was at the very beginning when Jim Lehrer asked if McCain would vote “Yes” on the bailout bill. McCain muttered “sure” but should have elaborated more on the issue and articulate his position rather than agreeing to vote for some pending, constantly changing bill.

    That day the Obama campaign released a statement that stated Obama was armed with a “one line zingers”. If that’s all that’s in the arsenal then it’s smooth sailing. It amazes me that this man is praised for his his speaking ability, I have yet to be impressed. Now Bill Clinton, he’s an effective speaker.

  • George

    McCain came off as old, inflexible and condescending. If he thought that repeating over and over again that, “Senator Obama just doesn’t understand…” would work to convince observers that he was smarter and more experienced, he only convinced his own supporters. McCain has been pushing his military record ad nauseam even more than Bob Dole did. Where did it get Dole? I’m tired of hearing about it. Being in the military is not a prerequisite for being president of the United States. Having been held prisoner is not either. McCain went on and on about how he has traveled here and there (perhaps to make up for Palin having just received her first passport last year). I was waiting for Obama to go into a mocking rendition of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere Man”. Instead Obama scored with his aside about McCain singing ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb…bomb, bomb Iran’ in response to McCain trying to lecture him about what a president says out loud. Big score for Obama…put the ‘little admiral’ in his place.
    McCain even threw in something about Palin being a ‘maverick’ too. LOL If not knowing what you’re going to do next is his definition of ‘maverick’, then both pigs are wearing the same shade of lipstick.
    Obama looked and acted more ‘presidential’. Of course, people may have forgotten what ‘presidential’ is after the last 8 years of presidentification.
    McCain is too old…too rigid. We need a new dynamic for today’s problems. I don’t want a 72 year old man who probably won’t be on this earth very much longer to make decisions about my future…and I certainly don’t want the moose shooter from Wasilla to make them in his stead.

  • Oh so the 72 year old man is out b/c he’s to old, but its ok for the community organizer with horrific affiliations to corrupt pastors, terrorists, slumlord landlord property investors etc. I think I’ll take my chances on the old man!

    P.S Gooooo “moose shooter”!!!

  • George

    I realize that you are unable to ‘understand’ the ramifications of having McCain/Bush another 4 years. Let’s just wait and see what happens in November. I predict that America will do the right thing and elect Obama…by a large margin. America and the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

    We’ll have a president who won’t be a ‘maverick’ (loose cannon) but instead level-headed, educated and able. I believe that we’ve had enough of presidents who were at the bottom of their class. We don’t need someone who is ready to ‘pop’ at any moment.

    Palin will go back to Wasilla to keep her eye out for Ruskies. Her 15 minutes are almost up.

  • Babs

    Interesting theory, or it would be if it were based on facts, George. I think all of us are certainly aware of the ramifications of having Bush for another 4 years. We’re also aware of the ramifications of letting Carter back into the White House for the next four.

    If you were able to ‘understand’ the ramifications of having Obama in the White House, your prediction would change.

    When McCain “went on and on” about the places he’s been and things he has done – that’s called experience. Obama goes on and on about things he’s read about, that’s it. When McCain was in Congress fighting for good laws, Obama was in tennis shoes playing basketball, smoking dope and “a little blow”. No contest. McCain wins, hands down. With all but the small minority who are unable to ‘understand’ this isn’t a game. It’s our future.

  • JD

    Babs – “I think all of us are certainly aware of the ramifications of having Bush for another 4 years.”

    Lol. Apparently not since alot of you voted for him after his first term or in essance you voted for “Bush for another 4 years” and we are all paying the price.

    Babs – “shoes playing basketball, smoking dope and “a little blow””

    “Low blow” there Babs. The truth is McCains experience does not equal or qualify as leadership or to be the best person for America. Under that notion any career politician should be the only ones to be president.

    Oddly enough even you, babs, have claimed that you are against career politicians and the trouble they bring to our government. McCain is a Career Politian so under yours and others suggestion is not good for Washington.

    That is what we call being hypocritical and only points to the truth. The truth is..

    “Wise men learn by other men’s mistakes, fools by their own”

    Obama = Wise – learns from others and as babs puts it, “Obama goes on and on about things he’s read about”. That is another word for a scholar. Someone who does his homework before he communicates and makes his decisions. This is also called Judgment…If you are looking for a president with sound judgment than you know who you are voting for.

    McCain = Fool – but he does have experience and has only learned from his own.

  • Babs

    1) If you read my comment to you last week, you’d see I didn’t vote for Bush, either time.

    2) I don’t think I’ve ever used the phrase “career politician” against anyone. Please find that for me, I must have been having a senior moment, or maybe you were.

    I have, however, quoted John McCain from the preface of “Faith of our Fathers” more than once –

    “I have spent much of my life choosing my own attitude, often carelessly, often for no better reason than to indulge a conceit. In those instances, my acts of self-determination were mistakes, some of which did no lasting harm, and serve now only to embarrass, and occasionally amuse, the old man who recalls them. Others I deeply regret.

    At other times, I chose my own way with good cause and to good effect. I did not do so to apologize for my mistakes. My contrition is a separate matter. When I chose well I did so to keep a balance in my life – a balance between pride and regret, between liberty and honor.”

    That man is not a fool, JD, and to call him such belittles your own arguments.

  • There’s no way on this planet McCain came off looking Presidential. The only way that could happen is if you’re wearing your Republican prescribed rose tinted glasses, which I think a lot of people are.

    Not everything McCain says is false or utter nonsense and Obama would be foolish to disagree with him for the sake of having an opposite opinion, which is why Obama agreed with some of what McCain had to say.

    This was good for Obama as it showed Obama being more bi-partisan than what McCain was. McCain unfortunately looked bitter and a little grumpy.