The Corner

“They Telegraphed Their Punches”

I have a new story up on last night’s debate.  After it ended, I talked to both a McCain and an Obama aide who had been deeply involved in debate prep, to see how things looked through their eyes.  There were two striking things about talking to the Obama aide.  One was the degree to which they thought Obama won on a “nonverbal” basis. “The first huge impression was visual,” the aide told me.  “[McCain] looked angry, he looked frustrated.  It was something that I think people reacted to quite viscerally.  People are going to remember the look on John McCain’s face.”

The second striking thing was the degree to which Obama expected everything McCain was going to say — down to the very word:

When it came to perhaps the most anticipated non-economic subject of the night, Obama’s relationship with former Weather Underground bomber William Ayers, it’s probably fair to say that McCain did not do much damage. In part, that was because Obama knew what was coming. “McCain used — I think it was pretty close to word-for-word the way he has talked about [Ayers] in interviews and on the stump,” the aide told me. “Pretty close to word-for-word.”

The same was true in McCain’s discussion of the radical community organizing group ACORN, with which Obama has sometimes been linked. “There was nothing [McCain] said about ACORN that they hadn’t said in their countless conference calls about it,” the aide told me. “They telegraphed their punches pretty effectively.”

I asked if such predictability made preparing for debates any easier. “It helps,” the aide said.

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