No fireworks in Round One of Obama-McCain clash

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If you were waiting for a knockout punch in last night's presidential debate, you had to wait until the very end and it never happened. What fireworks did occur came late in the debate and they really weren't the Fourth of July Washington monument type. They were more like sparklers or snakes.

But in living rooms across the country - that's where things were getting more heated. Armchair quarterbacks were yelling at their candidate, "Say this!" And "Don't let him get away with that!" Or "Quit saying you agree with him!" And "Don't do that weird smile."

But in the end the debate was called cerebral, presidential, sober, substantive, and "a relief."

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And the winner is...

How'd they do? If you didn't have a firm opinion, you could always drop by the most bizarre spectacle in modern presidential history -- "The Spin Room." This is where the most partisan political operatives hang out to try to persuade the media who won the debate and why. It's got as much surprise as Clay Aiken's announcement earlier this week.

As Jeff Greenfield from CBS News told the Chicago Tribune, "They are the most ludicrous, useless element of the entire political campaign. I cannot fathom what anyone gets out of these things."

"As this thing has developed or mutated, it's become a parody of itself," he said. "Some of these people will pour into the spin room before the debate even ends, which is particularly amusing because you kind of wonder what would happen if, in the last seconds, one of the candidates said, 'All praise to Satan.' These poor schlubs would still say, 'I thought he did a pretty good job.' They've become utterly useless."

So, we'll take the advice of Leslie Nielsen and "Move on. Nothing to see here."

The media "strategerizers"

This is better quality stuff. At least there is an attempt to analyze the debate with some sincerity. When David Gergen or George Will speak, for example, you can pick something up. You may not agree with what they have to say. But it seems to be more level. Gergen thought McCain needed more ooomph.

"From John McCain's point of view, he had to make something happen tonight because the election started drifting toward Barack Obama," Gergen said. "He needed to find a way tonight to reverse the momentum. I don't think he did that."

George Will, like many, didn't see the tides turn last night.

"This wasn't a game changer," Will said. "Both had their familiar personas. Barack Obama was the rather tweedy professor conducting a national seminar. John McCain was a rather hotter personality, the national scold."

Best sound bite

The best one-liner from the debate? Actually it came after the debate from Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.

"When they opened their mouths, what came out was neither hot nor cold, but a tepid gruel," Milbank wrote in seeming disappointment at the lack of fireworks.

No Jerry Springer

Where Milbank finds a glass half empty, Forbes' columnist Suzanne Garment finds a glass half-full.

"Much more important, though, is what Obama and McCain did not say," Garment opines. "They did not call each other names ... Their demagoguery, distortions of fact and pandering were well within normal bounds (though one could have done without the dueling bracelets). .. When you consider the presidential debates of the past decade or so, this one seemed positively illuminating."

Or positively boring, but Garment's a tax lawyer. So a rage-fueled John McEnroe versus Bobby Knight throwdown moderated by Jerry Springer would probably not be her cup of tea. But think of the ratings for that event.

Slow the bleed

Time's Joe Klein gives the edge to Obama acknowledging that no fatal blows were landed.

"There was nothing in this debate that was a knockout blow—nothing that should change the current trajectory of the campaign. (Although it may staunch the slow bleed that McCain has experienced the past week)," he wrote.

Mac is back

Over at Politico, Roger Simon seems to be giving the victory to John McCain calling the outing "one of his strongest debate performances ever" leading Obama to seek the aide of the moderator.

"At least twice after sharp attacks by McCain, Obama seemed to look to moderator Jim Lehrer for help, saying to Lehrer, “Let’s move on." wrote Simon.

Fodder for ads

John Dickerson at Slate lamented the lack of fireworks as well noting that Jim Lehrer "nearly begged" to get them to engage. No clear-cut winner in Dickerson's book but gave the tie to Obama because of the state of the GOP and the current polls. He did note, however, that in the upcoming advertising wars McCain may come out on top.

"[Obama] gave McCain some good material to make a campaign commercial..." he wrote. "Eleven times Obama said McCain was right. Before the debate was even over, the McCain team had spliced those into an ad for the crucial post-debate spin war."

Steve Schmidt's pals

Last night's duel is by no means the only fight going on. There's the McCain campaign honcho Steve Schmidt versus New York Times war too.  Schmidt just isn't a fan of the newspaper.

Its editorial board didn't declare a winner but was a bit more critical of the Republican candidate calling McCain's campaign suspension "ludicrous" and opining that McCain "fumbled his way through the economic portion of the debate." All this before expressing their disappointment in the Senator from Arizona.

"It was disturbing to see that Mr. McCain seems to have learned nothing from the disastrous war in Iraq," writes the Times.

"And he steadfastly refused to acknowledge that the decision to invade Iraq was an enormous mistake," the editorial continued.

Biden's take

One person who is never afraid to offer an opinion is Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden. And he had plenty of opinions about the debate last night. Strike that. He had one opinion: McCain was wrong. On everything.

"Hey, look, who was right and who was wrong? John McCain was dead wrong on the war, John McCain's been dead wrong in Afghanistan, John McCain's been dead wrong in his judgment supporting Bush's shredding national regulations to control Wall Street," Biden explained to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

In case you weren't certain how Biden saw it, he offered more.

"I didn't hear anything about the future from John," he continued. "All I heard from John tonight was the past and quite frankly, his judgments in the past being tethered to the policies of Bush economically and in foreign policy I think had been an abject failure. As the old Ronald Reagan said, if you like the last eight years, then John McCain showed you, you should stick with him."

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