Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama shake hands before the start of the Presidential debate on Oct. 7, 2008. Copyrighted AP photo by Jim Bourg. Below: The candidates listen to a question from Oliver Clark. Copyrighted AP photo by Charles Dharapak.
Presidential debates are kind of turning into what the Super Bowl was for years: a lot of hype for a strong dose of televised No-Doz.
Last week, we were built up for a gaffe fest between Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden that -- gee whiz -- turned out to be a pretty smooth affair. This week, a new bomb-throwing Republican attack was supposed to be unveiled with fading Republican Presidential candidate John McCain pounding Democratic candidate Barack Obama for his relationship with a former domestic terrorist.
But really, should we have expected that? How would it have really looked if McCain stepped out of the questions in the town hall format at Nashville's Belmont University to levy that sort of accusation with real live voters just feet away? The campaigns have to be aware that every time candidates start attacking each other, that little reaction line on CNN takes a dive.
Not that there weren't some moments of friction, particularly between moderator Tom Brokaw and the candidates. For most of the debate, Brokaw was the headmaster trying to keep the boys on schedule and on the questions at hand, while both candidates asked for follow-ups where they hadn't been scheduled. Brokaw repeatedly said they were playing by rules the campaigns had agreed to.
The funniest moment had to be at the end when, as Brokaw was making final comments, a head bopped into the screen as McCain and Obama stepped to center stage and the moderator said, “You’re in the way of my script there." The candidates had stepped in front of Brokaw's teleprompter, which was that black triangle at the back of the stage.
So, there were some flubs and gaffes, but no bonmbs.
The phrase that will probably endure from this debate is, "that one," which is how McCain referred to Obama at one point in the debate. On Hardball, Politico's Roger Simon and Newsweek's Howard Fineman said they immediately received e-mails from the Obama campaign, which was testing the waters to see how people were taking the reference. Fineman and Simon, as well as most other observers, seemed to think the phrase was simply representative of McCain's disdainful attitude toward Obama.
The line that seemed to get the most kudos was Obama turning McCain's "he doesn't understand," charge around saying, "I don't understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 . . . "
The most fun post debate is the midnight Hardball, with Chris Matthews broadcasting in front of screaming throngs of college kids like it was ESPN's College Gameday or something. Even with rain in Nashville last night, the Belmont University students were out in force.
While the previous two debates -- the veep debate and first Presidential debate -- revealed a disconnect between pundits/journalists and the general populace, there was a consensus that Obama won in Nashville. The polls showed numbers such as Obama winning 54-30 percent according to CNN. At this writing, Kentucky.com's poll has 31 percent of responders saying Obama won by "a knockout," 18 percent "by a little," compared to 19 and 21 saying McCain won by the same standards.
The folks at DebateDrink.com sure gave some folks hangovers by directing viewers to take a shot each time McCain said, "My Friends," last night. According to the Wall Street Journal, McCain used the phrase 18 times. Maybe they need to move that phrase back to sips of beer the next time. My friends, I recommend Excedrin Migraine and some OJ.
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