Obama-McCain debate: jabs, but no knockout
Economic anxiety overshadows Tuesday's matchup; McCain offers plan for Treasury to buy, renegotiate terms of 'bad home loan mortgages.'
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For the most part, the Republican nominee carried that out. Even in his opening thank yous, Senator McCain got in a little jab at Senator Obama, saying “it’s good to be with you at a town hall meeting.” The pointed reference to the format brought back memories of McCain’s proposal to hold 10 town hall meetings with Obama around the country, an idea that Obama rejected, to McCain’s frustration.
The town hall format is McCain’s favorite, because it allows him to engage in a back and forth with voters. But the strict time constraints in Tuesday’s event prevented any sort of free-wheeling debate. Ultimately, the two candidates went back and forth without any knockout punches or gaffes, and so there appeared to be no obvious winner.
Insta-polls of uncommitted voters by CNN and CBS both gave the duel to Obama. But even without polls to lean on, it was clear that by the end of the evening the trajectory of the campaign had not changed. So for McCain, now the clear underdog after more than three weeks of devastating economic news that has put his party on the defensive, the debate was in effect a loss.
Going into the debate with an expectation that momentum might change is probably a mistake, says Byron Shafer, political science chair at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
“This has become a campaign in which, in some sense, major external events are driving the train,” says Mr. Shafer. “If you say to McCain, ‘Go to that debate and do something outrageously better than Obama so everyone forgets the credit markets seizing up,’ you’re being unreasonable.”
The first half of the debate was dominated by the nation’s economic turmoil, and voter anxiety came through in the questions. Many of the questions came from members of the audience of 80 uncommitted voters; others came via e-mail from voters outside of Nashville, where the debate was held.
In response to the first question, which asked what kind of bailout the candidates would propose for older citizens and workers who have lost their incomes, both candidates seized the opportunity to show they feel voters’ pain.
“I think everybody knows now we are in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” Obama replied. “And a lot of you I think are worried about your jobs, your pensions, your retirement accounts, your ability to send your child or your grandchild to college.”