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.