Friday, September 26, 2008

A few thoughts on the first debate

If there's any consensus among the pundits about tonight's debate is that it was a tie. McCain and Obama each had their moments and their failings. In some ways that outcome kept McCain's campaign alive, but at the same time it kept Obama in the lead.

I was profoundly disappointed that my prediction below did not turn out to be the case. With such erratic, impetuous, unbalanced behavior this week (not to mention the Veep pick) McCain deserved to have his temperament questioned and Obama could have put him away for good by effectively questioning whether McCain's behavior this week and decisions throughout this campaign underly a kind of instability that makes McCain just to risky to put into a commander-in-chief position. That said, basic game theory says you don't take chances when you're winning and maybe, essentially, questioning McCain's sanity was just too risky. Some things you just let speak for themselves.

As I write this, the insta-polls show that a majority of Americans believe that Obama won this debate :
From CNN/Opinion Research poll of Debate Watchers (1000 surveyed, +/-4.5% MOE):

Who Did the Best Job in the Debate? Obama 51%-McCain 38%
(Men 43-46 for McCain/Women 59-31 for Obama; 50+ years old 48-40 for Obama)
Who Would Better Handle Iraq? Obama 52%-McCain 47%
Who Would Better Handle the Economy? Obama 58%-McCain 37%
(similarly favorable numbers from a CBS of undecided voters here)

The talking heads were calling it a tie and given the state of the contest, a tie means that Obama retains his overall lead as reflected in the tracking and swing state polls. But, if most Americans who watched the debate believe Obama won (and remember, this foreign policy debate was supposed to be the one that McCain would have the upper-hand) it's pretty much over. Initial public impressions can and often do change, and we still have five-and-a-half weeks to the election, but McCain needed a game changer and by all appearances he didn't get one.

Next up, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, next Thursday, October 2. Can't wait!

PS Fascinating observation from David Gergen on CNN tonight. He compares Obama in tonight's debate to JFK against Nixon in the foreign policy debate in 1960. As Gergen notes, it wasn't that Kennedy won the debate, but the younger challenger, the one voters were unsure of, held his own against the older more experienced candidate and it was that debate that allowed JFK to win the election. Gergen says Obama did the same tonight. Of course, Eisenhower in 1960 was nowhere near as unpopular as W in 2008.

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