A Draw, At Best

Tonight’s debate started badly, I thought, as John McCain seemed oddly muted on the mortgage crisis and completely failed to put the blame where it belongs, on the Democrats. For a while I thought McCain wasn’t going to do any better than the Minnesota Twins tonight–they’re losing 8-1 to the Royals.

As the evening went on McCain warmed up a bit, but he was still mostly in “bad McCain” mode. More than most politicians of his stature, McCain’s performance in such events is variable. Sometimes he is very effective–focused, clear, persuasive. Other times he seems distracted; he speaks in shorthand and can come across as almost incoherent. Often, tonight, he was in that lower range of performance.

Obama, meanwhile, was at his best. Generally he is below average when forced to speak extemporaneously, without a teleprompter. But tonight I thought he came across as plausible. He stammered much less than usual and didn’t commit any obvious blunders. The bar probably wasn’t set very high for him, and I think he got over it. Most viewers probably thought that he seemed a plausible President.

As the evening went on, McCain did better. He started landing some shots against Obama. But I suspect it was too little, too late. It’s always hard to guess what the typical “swing voter”–which is to say, for the most part, people who are ill-informed–will make of a Presidential debate. I hope that some, at least, got a sense that Obama is a BSer who often has little idea what he is talking about and constantly runs away from his record. That’s just a hope, though. I think Obama probably improved his chances tonight.

UPDATE: As you’ve seen, Paul’s assessment is considerably cheerier than mine. I hope he’s right. These early returns at Drudge are hopeful:

FirstDebatePoll43.jpg

But they don’t mean much, not because Drudge readers skew right–they might, but not that much–but because they don’t fit the uncommitted voter profile. More meaningful, probably, is this survey of uncommitted voters by CBS News:

CBS News and Knowledge Networks conducted a nationally representative poll of approximately 500 uncommitted voters reacting to the debate in the minutes after it happened.

Forty percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-two percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-eight percent saw it as a draw.

Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight.

This kind of instant poll has often been subject to politicization in the past, and it may be wholly unreliable. But I’m afraid it may reflect, pretty accurately, what uncommitted voters saw. We’ll find out as we observe poll results over the next few days.

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