The Third and Final Round. . .McCain and Obama Tie but McCain Needed More — McCain’s Eye Rolls and “Joe the Plumber” will be Remembered as Highlights


I’m in Barack Obama’s home base town, Chicago, and will live blog this debate. I’m sitting here with Martin Walker, editor emeritus of UPI and Director of AT Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council, as well as his wife, Julia Watson, who publishes the blog, Eat Washington.
Bob Schieffer — whose brother Tom is George W. Bush’s Ambassador to Japan — opens with a question about the beleaguered economy and why each candidate thinks his particular economic plan is better than his rivals.
McCain has started off with a salute to Nancy Reagan who is in the hospital with a broken pelvis after a fall. But then he gets into why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were the core root of the housing crisis. Not really true — and I don’t think he spoke in a way where his lines were memorable. But mostly, he didn’t say why his plan is better than Obama’s. . .
Barack is up. Good line….”we are in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” That will be remembered. He said he tried to work for “core principles. . .” And he said we haven’t seen a “rescue package for the middle class.”
Obama has a lot of memorable phrasing. He’s been working at this. McCain was wonky, serious, calm — but not memorable.
Another good line. . .Obama doesn’t want to engineer “a giveaway for banks.”
This is by far the best start I have seen for Barack Obama.
McCain is trying to talk directly to a small business plumber named Joe Wurzelbacher who thinks Obama’s plan will raise taxes on him. Interesting maneuver.
Obama gave a very effective response speaking to a much wider group around “Joe the plumber.” McCain says Obama is trying to redistribute Joe the Plumber’s money to other people. Obama counters that he’s going to lower taxes — or not raise taxes — on 95% of the nation’s citizens.
McCain is coming off as crotchety, snarky. . .but he did a good job connecting to an individual’s personal economic problem. . .Joe the Plumber.
Kind of like pointing up into the gallery at the President’s State of the Union address. . .seems personal, but basically insincere.
Home ownership is teed up by McCain. McCain thinks if we can start “increasing home values” we can help get beyond this problem. How is he going to actually increase home values.
McCain is losing it. . .sounds angry….bubbling that we need to change this, change that — but it’s not articulately or cleanly constructed. He’s running down a technical roster of “to do’s” but it is not organized.
Touche. Obama said that “earmarks” — a centerpiece of the McCain campaign — constitute 1/2 of 1% of spending. Ouch. That was a good line. . .and then Obama went into the macro issues of how large the surplus was seven years ago and how large the deficit is today.
McCain: “Senator McCain. . .I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. . .” It’s getting more tense.
McCain just told Bob Schieffer that he thought he could balance the budget in four years. McCain said “yes” — he could do it. I say, no way. . .
Obama is defending himself against McCain’s charges that he’s not stood up against the leaders in his own party. Obama raised charter schools, clean coal technology and tort reform — none of which are popular with Dem leadership.
Obama just scored by linking McCain to Bush and saying that he’s essential a continuation of eight more years of the Bush administration. Now McCain defends himself. . .
I don’t like his answers but McCain is getting more solid and clear as this moves on.
Ooh…the William Ayers question just came up indirectly. Schieffer asked whether they’d say to each other, face to face, what their campaigns have essentially been accusing each other of. . .
McCain just accused Barack Obama of spending more money on negative ads than any other presidential candidate in history. Also called him untruthful for flip-flopping on a commitment made early in the campaign to take public funding rather than private for his campaign.
Obama is doing a nice job saying that we need to talk about the economy, health care, energy, sending people to college — rather than the tit-for-tat politics as usual game going on. McCain is attacking Obama for running ads that distort McCain’s record on stem cell research, his health care plan, and immigration. . .
McCain is hitting hard — and according to the “males” in uncommitted Ohio voters that CNN is tracking, is scoring some support.
Obama is getting less smooth as McCain pushes harder — and he’s losing momentum. Obama is getting know response on the CNN monitor. . .but this is just a short blip in an otherwise strong performance thus far by Obama.
But clearly McCain succeeded in pushing Obama off balance here — at least for this section.
McCain’s campaign just sent me this graphic depicting amounts spent on negative ads by the Obama and McCain campaigns:
mccain ads.jpg
McCain now saying he doesn’t care about an old, washed up terrorist — Bill Ayers — but he thinks Americans should have the right to know about the extent of Obama’s relationship with Ayers, with Acorn, and with other people and institutions who have threatened or do threaten the integrity and stability of America’s democracy.
Obama said look at who I do associate with — Jim Jones, Warren Buffett, Richard Lugar, Joe Biden. Ayers is not a part of Obama’s campaign or advisory group — but Obama said that McCain has made Bill Ayers a central part of his campaign. . .
After a poor start, I have to say that McCain is putting in a strong performance. He’s coming off as serious, direct, confrontive. He’s putting Obama off his game just a bit. . .
McCain is defending Palin — calling her a reformer, a breath of fresh air, an anti-crony type. . .and oh yes, she understands “special needs” children. What really bothers me about this line is that it took her to have a child with special needs to be into the subject to the degree that she is. What if her child turns out to be gay — will she find herself able to move beyond tolerance of homosexuals??
Obama previously did a good job of speaking to Joe Biden’s solid credentials. McCain just called the Biden/Gelb federal plan for Iraq a “cockemany plan”. But essentially, McCain said that Biden could be qualified to be president. . .grudging respect of a sort.
But McCain is staying tense, tough, direct, confrontive.
Now McCain is saying that Obama doesn’t support nuclear power. I know that’s not true. We’ll have to see how Obama responds. . .but I’ve heard Obama talk about expanding “safe nuclear” power.
Obama says that in “ten years”, we can significantly reduce external American dependence on oil. Obama is for some offshore drilling, but drilling will not help Americans move beyond foreign oil dependence. He then said that he’s supportive of wind, biofuels, geothermal, solar, etc. . .but actually he did not say nuclear.
Here is a response from an undecided observer who sends insights to TWN now and then:

Seems to me that not only has John McCain come out swinging but that many of his jabs are landing. In part because of clearer statements and accusations but just as much because Obama is (surprisingly) accepting the premise of the argument and justifying it with a (poor) response.
I fear Obama is trying so hard not to make a gaf or lose his notoriously cool demeanor that he is allowing too much to go unchallenged. I think in some of these situations, just once in a while, “Joe six pack” and “Sally hockey mom” might actually like to see a little steam come out of his ears now and then.
(PS – who would have imagined Bob Schieffer would be the best of all the moderators and the one actually holding the candidates’ feet to the fire on actually answering the questions asked? Lastly, please point out the voters should feel pandered to and angered by promises of energy independence. I would expect more from the otherwise sound policy wonks in the Obama camp.)

Ugh. I don’t like this. The Columbia Free Trade Agreement that has not been passed by
Congress is not the best agreement to debate principles of trade. McCain has thrashed Democratic opposition to the agreement — and Obama who acknowledged that the Columbia FTA has provisions supportive of environmental and labor standards said that Columbia labor leaders were sometimes subjected to assassination attempts — and the government was not moving against perpetrators.
Obama talking about how to reindustrialize the “heartland.” Actually a very good response and a decent shout out to the auto industry.
Now on to health care. . .Obama is talking first to those with health care and telling those folks that he’s going to try and lower their costs. And to those without health care, he’s going to try to negotiate with health companies on drug prices and stop denials of service — and then offer a plan to everyone that’s a lot like what Members of Congress have.
McCain said we need to reduce costs by putting health records on line. Those who fear Big Brother won’t like that. . .but his response sounds a lot like Obama’s advice to fill up tires with air to deal with the high prices of oil and the energy crisis (i.e., not good).
Joe the plumber is back!!! McCain shouts out to him — calls him McCain’s friend — and said that if Joe doesn’t get a health care plan then Obama’s plan is going to “fine him.”
Now Obama says hi to the virtual “Joe the Plumber.” Obama responds to McCain that Joe will not pay any fine regarding health insurance. . .in fact Joe will get a credit of 50% for all of the health care he provides people who work for his plumbing company.
I think “Joe the Plumber” is the unanticipated drinking line for those expecting to down beers every time “maverick” came up. . .which it hasn’t.
Women in Ohio don’t seem to be happy whenever Joe the Plumber’s name comes up — but there will be a lot of articles next week on “Joe” — all over the nation and world. And Joe apparently tilts McCain’s direction.
John McCain wants “Joe to do the job.” He wants Joe the Plumber to stand against the increasing size, scale and operations of government.
I wish Obama had someone to talk to like Tania the Teacher or Wally the Warehouse Guy. . .or someone. . .
Wow. John McCain thinks Roe vs. Wade is a bad decision but he would submit “no litmus test” of any kind to Supreme Court nominees. interesting. . .John McCain is going to win points here. McCain just told the public he voted for Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg.
Obama is coming off weak in response. He’s not jumping at this. He calls the situation of picking judges consequential. He thinks Roe vs. Wade does stand in the balance. He thinks “good people on both sides disagree on this.” Generally a weak response. He seems to not understand that this is a zinger issue that he should be hitting out of the park.
I think Obama is trying to avoid gaffes. I am getting a lot of email from sophisticated political watchers and supporters of Obama and they think he’s holding back on purpose. I’m not sure. He started out smooth.
McCain is smooth and tough now. Doing a strong job — but I can’t tell if he’s really convincing independents to move his way.
Again, Obama is on the defense explaining his old votes on partial birth abortion. He’s getting too technical and is not impressing the audience.
McCain is succeeding in nudging Obama off his game, at least to some degree. Obama is still coming off as presidential, as someone with gravitas and stature, but just a little bit weak. . .had to say it. It’s true.
John McCain was doing so well — but then he looks like the naughty little child right now that has to speak and sputter what is on his mind immediately. I think he lost a few points on the behavior front.
Now. . .last question on education. America spends more on education than any other nation in the world — but we trail the world in educational performance. First to Obama — the education problem has more to do with the future of the nation and the security of the nation than any other issue. Obama said that the debate is between either “more money” or “reform” — and he said we need “both.”
I hate to say it — but I’m not an education policy specialist — but every time I hear a leading politician talking about hiring more teachers, training them, setting standards. . .it ALWAYS sounds the same to me. And now Obama is saying we need “parents” in the game too. Same old. Same old. . .to me. I know that ed policy people may disagree.
McCain says that education is the civil rights issue of our times. He wants competion between schools — wants to promote good teachers and “find bad teachers another line of work.” McCain said that “throwing money at the problem is not the solution. . .”
John McCain just made the odd comment (at least to my ears) that American servicemen who come back and who can teach ought not to be subject to testing exams. Is this the guy who was just promoting standards and encouraging benchmarking between good and bad teachers?
Obama is pro charter schools like McCain. He wants greater emphasis on childhood education. Obama disagrees with McCain on widespread distribution of vouchers — and went after McCain for calling youth who needed greater support to go to college “an interest group.” Obama said that students are not an “interest group” — they are “our future.”
McCain was very strong in the middle of the debate — but his eye rolls and huffpuffery at the end cost him stature and probably the debate. He reinforced he’s angry — but also reinforced that he was knowledgeable and compelling.
Obama is steady, a bit aloof, smart — here at the end. McCain, at the end, was snarky but still strong through a great deal of the debate.
Now for closing spin from both. McCain said “America needs a new direction and that he wants to take on special interests. . .” He might try and take on his own national security advisor who was working for the Government of Georgia in the lead up to a high stakes global conflict. I’m not anti-lobbyist, but I think McCain just comes off silly pretending to be as anti-vested interests as Obama when so many of the vested interest crowd populate his campaign.
Obama, in his closing statement, reminds people of what an economic mess the nation is in. He said “we need fundamental change in the country.” He says we are going to have to reinvest in the country, in the middle class, in education, in health care. He’s doing a good, positive job of calling on the nation to join him in managing very tough challenges — and did a nice job of saying that if he got the “extraordinary privilege” of going to the White House, he’d work tirelessly on behalf of Americans.
Very nice end for Obama. But taking all of it together — I think that this was a “tie.”
Obama was not a definitive win and occasionally came off bland and flat — but he had moments of excellence. McCain was strong, confronted Obama — but undermined himself with snarkiness and behavioral pettiness.
But McCain needed more than a tie and didn’t get it. His eye rolls were really bad.
OK. . .I’m so glad that these are done.
McCain and Obama tied — but that wasn’t good enough for John McCain.
— Steve Clemons


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