Presidential Debate Reactions: Pundits Weigh In

Presidential Debate Reactions: Pundits Weigh In

The second presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain has concluded. Below is a roundup of some reactions to the debate from pundits and news organizations:

This was, I think, a mauling: a devastating and possibly electorally fatal debate for McCain. Even on Russia, he sounded a little out of it. I've watched a lot of debates and participated in many. I love debate and was trained as a boy in the British system to be a debater. I debated dozens of times at Oxofrd. All I can say is that, simply on terms of substance, clarity, empathy, style and authority, this has not just been an Obama victory. It has been a wipe-out.It has been about as big a wipe-out as I can remember in a presidential debate. It reminds me of the 1992 Clinton-Perot-Bush debate. I don't really see how the McCain campaign survives this.

Here, Mr. Obama has a star turn -- on foreign policy, Mr. McCain's supposed turf. Mr. Obama is more forceful than usual, and makes the hunt for Osama bin Laden his singular focus.

We have a disaster here -- which is what you should expect when you delegate a non-conservative to make the conservative (nay, the American) case. We can parse it eight ways to Sunday, but I think the commentary is missing the big picture...

...With due respect, I think tonight was a disaster for our side. I'm dumbfounded that no one else seems to think so. Obama did everything he needed to do, McCain did nothing he needed to do. What am I missing?

Status Quo. By and large, both Obama and McCain stuck to their tried and true attacks on their rival. Obama cast McCain as a clone of the current president whose judgment on domestic and foreign affairs had been wrong time and time again. McCain painted Obama as a liberal who wants to raise taxes and increase spending in the midst of an economic crisis. No new ground was broken. Obama, smartly, stuck to a script to avoid any sort of flub that could change the general direction of the race, which is a trend in his favor.

I'd call tonight's debate a draw, which if the dynamic from the first debate holds probably means it was a big win for Obama. I was gratified by the approach McCain took - by the absence of personal attacks (though, yes, the dislike still came through), by the attempt to actually engage with Obama on issues like health care, and yes, by the promise to buy up home mortgages, which was exactly the kind of blatantly panderish thing McCain needs to do if he wants to actually win this thing. (More on this tomorrow.) But Obama was unruffled and consistent - change vs. more of the same, change vs. more of the same, rinse and repeat - and for whatever it's worth the physical and generational contrast between the two men was very striking in this setting, and especially in the early going McCain seemed to me be showing his age as he delivered his answers. He improved as the night went on, but the vigor gap was palpable.

Tonight's debate wasn't even close. Sen. Barack Obama ran away with it -- particularly when speaking about the economy and health care. Talking about his mother's death from cancer was very powerful. On nearly every issue, Obama was more substantive, showed more compassion and was more presidential.

In contrast, Sen. John McCain was extremely erratic. Sometimes he was too aggressive (referring to Obama as "that one.") Other times, he just couldn't answer the question (on how he would ask Americans to sacrifice.) And his random attempts at jokes (hair transplants?) were just bad.

MSNBC Focus Group

And this new poll has good news for the Democratic ticket: Just as in the first presidential debate and the vice presidential face off, more uncommitted voters say the Democratic candidate won the debate. (The exact numbers may change as more respondents complete the survey.)

Thirty-nine percent of the 400 uncommitted voters surveyed identified Barack Obama as tonight's winner; 27 percent said John McCain won, while 35 percent saw the debate as a draw.

After the debate, 68 percent of uncommitted voters said that they think Obama will make the right decisions on the economy, compared to 54 percent who said that before the debate. Fewer thought McCain would do so - 49 percent after the debate, and 41 percent before.

Who won? I look forward to your answers to that question. As I did the first time--just 11 days ago, if you can believe it--I did not think this was McCain at his best. He often seemed very self-conscious to me. His breathless voice tonight sometimes seemed strained and unnatural. His determination, evident in the first debate, to avoid his catch-phrase "my friends" disappeared tonight. He repeated himself quite often. But he ended very well. Obama seemed to project the same steady, cool persona we saw the first time out, and which, the polls say, won the debate for him then. But he avoided answering quite a few questions, which may have annoyed viewers. Of course McCain avoided answering some questions too.

John McCain's latest debate performance points up the cynicism of his recent attacks on Barack Obama's character -- which he plainly did not dare to repeat before the live audience on national television.

So much for McCain as the master of townhalls. As Quin notes below, McCain got better as the topics moved to things he's actually interested in. But does anyone think he won this debate? I don't.

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