The Campaign Spot

A Surprisingly Strong Night For McCain, While Obama Energizes His Base

My guess is, everybody thinks their guy won tonight.
From where I sit, McCain had a surprisingly strong night. It’s obvious I thought the postpone-the-debate-oh-nevermind-we’re-back-on hokey-pokey was potentially a major, major misstep. Tonight, that seems like much less relevant news. If you were wavering on McCain, nothing you saw tonight should give you doubts and probably reassured you a great deal.

In that sense, tonight was a major win for McCain — it’ll change the storyline from “uh, what was he thinking?”
Maybe McCain went to the “Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand” well one time too many. Maybe some voters will see it as condescending. (I can only imagine the howls of outrage on the liberal blogs right now.) But the overall message of the night was clear – McCain is smart, familiar with the issues on a striking level of detail, knows what he wants to do: “I don’t think I need any on the job training. I’m ready to go right now… I know how to deal with our adversaries, and I know how to deal with our friends.”
It’s not that Obama had a lousy night; I think he accomplished a mission he really didn’t need (got his base to jump out of their chairs at every answer) and missed on the most important task of the night: Seem ready to take over on January 20. Flustered is too strong a word, but Obama’s answers were a little halting early on, and he let his irritation/exasperation/disbelief with McCain show several times, and it wasn’t quite the right tone. (Credit where it’s due, the “uh”s almost completely disappeared this evening.) His closing answer, invoking his father, came closest to reminding people why they were so impressed with Obama when he appeared on the national stage – he seemed to be an embodiment of a simultaneously unique and  American success story. Next time, Obama probably will want to serve up more of that.
Deep down, I know what appeals to me in a debate isn’t necessarily what appeals to the country as a whole. But it’s really hard to say McCain had a bad night, and I think Obama seemed a little shaky at times tonight – his performance didn’t boldly and clearly say, “I know I’m new on the scene, but you can trust me; I am ready to succeed in the hardest job in the world.”

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