It was the best of the three in many ways. Sitting across from each other, Barack Obama and John McCain were forced to face each other. We saw McCain finally acknowledge his opponent. We saw Obama "called forth" to answer the accusations about Ayers and ACORN.
It was the best moderated of the events, as someone finally took the initiative to keep the two candidates on track. That, the nature of the setting and the finality of this being the last chance to speak to the entire nation in one moment created some much more impassioned speech.
I watched this one on CNN, after watching the first on PBS and the second on NBC. CNN is the network which has been supplying focus groups with a dial to rate their reaction. The individuals turn the dial to indicate their positive or negative feelings, which are then shown on a graph at the base of the television screen. I liked the graph. It was interesting.
It absolutely PLUNGED when McCain went negative.
Obama seemed to score best with the graph on Education and on Health Care.
On the economy and taxes, it was more even.
Obama flatlined a few times, right in the middle... but he only rarely went below the midline. And most of the time when he did, it seemed to be when he was basically forced to "counter-punch" negative.
I saw nothing that I thought was a game changer. McCain started much better than in the past two debates. But he lost that momentum in the middle, which I thought was more even and then he crashed. I felt Obama won the last third.
There was also a dramatic difference on the questions about the VP choice. Sarah Palin has certainly been a divisive choice. While she has fired up the Republican base, It would seem evident that the country as a whole do not approve of her and do not feel she is qualified. Joe Biden does not seem to evoke much emotion, yet people do trust him and feel that he could lead the nation.
Finally, I noticed that McCain did much better with men than women. While this was most clear on the Roe v. Wade question, it was visible throughout the night. If we use the CNN focus group as a model, I would have to conclude that women simply do not trust John McCain.
Every media outlet while give you the soundbites, so I feel no need to rehash them. (We will all be sick of hearing about Joe the Plumber soon.) I will say that I feel that Obama did perform better than McCain, although I know my own bias plays into that. But Barack appeared calm and measured. John McCain, on the other hand, sometimes appeared as though he were barely able to contain his anger. I think that will make an impact. Most people don't want that reaction in a crisis.
In the end, McCain did not get the dramatic faux pas or mistake from Obama that he needed, nor did he find a way to differentiate himself from the messages he has given out on the campaign trail.
Obama could have lost the election tonight. He could not win. Basically, Obama held serve. With a ten point advantage in the polls, that may very well be enough.
Judging this debate as an isolated event, I still feel Obama won the evening. However, there is little doubt that this was McCain's best performance. But Obama was far more clear and impressive on Health Care and Education and although he did not hammer McCain on the economy as he has in the past, he still seemed better equipped to handle the issue than his opponent.