My initial impression from last night has not changed: Barack Obama won the debate, and he did it with a balance of style that showed he was a thoughtful, calm, and reassuring presence on stage and substance by having a grasp of the issues and — for the most part — he addressed the questions with cogent replies, even if, as is the wont of all politicians, he went off on a tangent to the nearest talking point. (At least he didn’t go completely off-roading like Gov. Palin did last week.) John McCain did not grow horns or laugh maniacally, but he seemed — with one exception — to be little more than reacting to what Mr. Obama was saying rather than coming up with ideas of his own. That one exception was his proposal that the government buy up all the “bad” mortgages and sell them back to the owners at more favorable rates. That squishy/popping sound you heard was Republican heads exploding as Mr. McCain proposed letting the United States government get into the real estate business. If that had come from a Democrat, you know how they would have responded: “Socialized real estate!”
Although some of the right-wing bloggers are planning on capitalizing on the “That One” comment, all this will do is enshrine it as the epitome of Mr. McCain’s attitude about Mr. Obama, and it was as close as he came to opening up the floor to the execrable stump speeches of Sarah Palin where she whips the audience into a Nuremberg-style frenzy about “pallin’ around with domestic terrorists” and getting such responses as “kill him!” I was glad that the debate didn’t go there last night, because if it had, it would make for a very boring four weeks as the pundits and the public drive slowly by the smoldering ruins of the McCain campaign.
The overnight polls and focus groups all give the debate to Mr. Obama, and like the first debate, I’m pretty sure that this impression will solidify over the next week before they meet again.