But I Don’t Know If He Won Enough

The debate was – on the whole – refreshingly civilized on both sides.  For whatever reason, Senator McCain decided not to directly attack Senator Obama on character and while both sides did their share of hammering the other guy’s record and proposals, they spent the majority of the time talking about their ideas.  This was much closer to Loveland’s “wouldn’t it be nice if” scenario he outlined earlier today.

Early reviews from CNN’s panel of endlessly talking heads was that it wasn’t a game-changer and that’s the way I saw it too.  Obama accomplished his goals of – again – appearing calm, collected and – yes – Presidential and McCain did not – again – succeed in portraying Obama as inexperienced or himself as a more compelling leader.

The CBS instant poll of undecided voters indicated 40 percent of the 516 respondents said Barack Obama was the winner; 26 percent said John McCain won and 34 percent saw the debate as a draw.  The CNN poll of debate watchers had it 54-30 in favor of Obama.  Neither poll had much good news for the Arizona Senator…54 percent of CNN respondents said Obama seemed to be the stronger leader during the debate versus 43 percent for McCain; viewers though Obama was more likeable than McCain 65 percent to 28 percent;  a majority thought Obama was more intelligent, 57 percent to 25, and 60 percent thought Obama more clearly expressed himself than McCaiBefn (30 percent).

In the CBS poll results, 80 percent thought Obama understands voters’ needs and problems versus 44 percent for McCain.  McCain, however, did come out on top in one measurement: 83 percent thought he was ready to be president versus just 58 percent for Obama.

The talking heads were critical of the format and of moderator Tom Brokaw, but I thought Brokaw was right to let them talk and at one point to ignore the rules and actually respond to one another.  It was almost like a real debate.

Tomorrow, of course, Team McCain will be back on the character offensive (and Team Obama will resume playing offensive defense), but for tonight we were spared another round of Ayers versus Keating.

Fueling the McCain attack tomorrow will be a new CNN look at the Obama-Ayers connection that is more suggestive than the New York Times‘ treatment from last week.  This will no doubt be a relief to Ms. Palin as I’m sure having to cite the Times was causing canker sores.

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There Will Be Blood

…and mud and more over the next 30 days.

The pressure to go negative is particularly acute on Team McCain which – by most estimates – clearly is in the tougher position with 30 days to go.  On Saturday, on the campaign trail, Governor Palin gave us a preview of things to come:

Today, Team Obama and its surrogates warned Team McCain that going down the path of character attacks and guilt-by-association could hurt them as well:

Barack Obama’s allies warn that John McCain’s attacks on the Democrat’s character will lead to the political equivalent of mutual assured destruction: fire your big weapon at your own peril.

Several Obama surrogates said his supporters may start reminding voters of McCain’s ties to Charles Keating, a convicted savings and loan owner whose actions two decades ago triggered a Senate ethics investigation that involved McCain as one of the “Keating Five.”

The warnings of massive retaliation came as McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, took on the role of attacker and said that Obama sees America as so imperfect “that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” She was referring to an early Obama supporter, 1960s radical Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground whose members were blamed for several bombings when Obama was a child.

Obama has denounced Ayer’s radical views and activities. But he’s not above questioning McCain’s character with loaded words.

On Sunday Obama unveiled a TV ad on the economy that paints McCain was “erratic in a crisis.” Some see that as a reminder of McCain’s age, 72.

Democrats were well-synchronized Sunday, using the word “erratic” and Keating’s name in nearly-matching sentences across the talk show circuit.

Let’s see…we’re counting on two political organizations – each within hailing distance of the biggest political prize in the world – to restrain themselves from using weapons they know have historically been effective?

There will be blood.

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