I took in tonight’s debate that almost never was with Minnesota Public Radio, at their UBS studio with about 100 other people.
There were probably eight or ten identified Republicans in the place. I’ll give some kudos to MPR; we were probably represented in greater proportion that we are among MPR’s mailing list, if not among its audience. I was joined by Derek, Lassie and Diamond Dog from Freedom Dogs, among a few others.
I took 32 pages of notes (to be fair, they were 3×5 inch sheets of paper) – but really, Bob Collins at MPR’s News Cut had a pretty complete liveblog. So did Ed, naturally. So I won’t regurgitate all my notes.
But I will give some of my observations.
It Started Bad for Mac: He looked and sounded nervous for the first question, in the first five minutes or so. I got really nervous for a bit there. He looked like it took a moment to get his bearings.
Once We Got Past The Jitters, There Was A Pattern: Obama talked in terms of talking points and lots of fairly vague generalities. McCain – once he found his sea legs – mopped the floor with Obama on specifics, experience and gravitas.
Obama Was Fixated On Taxes: The second question asked the candidates what they’d cut from their plans, given the economic crisis. Obama would not answer the question. On top of that, he kept mixing up tax hikes for cuts.
Mac’s Message: “Let’s Get The Band Together Again”: Mac continued [what I maintain is] his strategy of bypassing the “elites” and the media, and going directly to the old Reagan Coalition. I don’t think much of the audience, Obama supporters that they were, got it.
McCain Ruled The Second Half: Once the debate switched to pure foreign policy, Obama seemed to rely on platitudes, while Mac was able, more and more, to not only draw on his decades of experience, but to relax and, finally, appear in command of the situation. For the last half of the debate, Obama seemed like he was on the defensive, and on issue after issue Mac kept him on the ropes; the guy’s been where history’s been made for the past quarter century; I’m not sure how Obama could be anything but overmatched.
After the debate, Jeff Horwich of In The Loop held a forum, focusing mostly on undecided voters. This was interesting, in a sense; so few of the people I hang out with are actually undecided, being either committed conservatives or committed liberals.
But there were plenty of Obama supporters – easily over half of the crowd. And the refrain that it seemed like all of them came up with to describe the debate; “McCain was condescending”. I got a little laugh out of that – me, the “bitter, gun-clinging Jesus freek”, or whatever it was that Obama called me and people like me; me, the supporter of the “broad who should be home raising her kids”, of the “old guy” as so many lefties refer to McCain; lefties, who are so supremely condescending to all of us gun-toting, WalMart shopping, often suburb-dwelling Middle Americans, get hurt when Mac takes The One to school on the issues? I was tempted to get up and yell “sack up and grow a pair, you hamsters”. Decorum ruled, however.
Kudos to MPR, at any rate; I think they’re making a serious effort to ensure some sort of ideological diversity in these events. I had a great time (the free Finnegan’s Irish Amber didn’t hurt, either).
UPDATE: Paul Mirengoff stated it well:
McCain was the teacher; Obama was the promising but somewhat disappointing student — the one who knows lots of facts but ultimately doesn’t quite get the big picture
In reaching this verdict, I don’t want to give the impression did Obama did badly. To the contrary, I think he debated quite well for the most past. Certainly, his performance should end the mantra of certain critics that Obama can’t handle himself without a tele-prompter. The problem for Obama was not his performance; his problem was that once McCain got past his dreadful first “round” of the debate, he excelled. McCain was more knowledgeable, more to the point, keener on the attack, and (above all) deeper than Obama.
The reality is that, when he’s in form, McCain is deeper than just about anyone. Recall his debates with Mitt Romney (and a cast of thousands). Romney was articulate (probably more so than Obama) and knowledgeable. But McCain had an octave that Romney just couldn’t reach (though Giuliani did at times). McCain hit those notes frequently tonight; Obama couldn’t reach them any more than Romney could.
Paul’s right – Obama did debate capably (as I noted to the MPR audience when called upon to give a strong suit to Obama’s performance). But McCain exuded authority. I guess when your guy doesn’t exude it, one might think it “condescending”.
Obama looked like a plausible president. So, voters who are too disgusted to vote for a Republican probably got enough reassurance from Obama tonight to take the plunge. But to the extent voters are still comparing the two candidates, rather than voting up or down on Obama, I think it was a good night for McCain.
We noted that with Horwich’s interviews with the “undecideds” in the room. There was one – let’s just say an “obvious” democrat – who said she was a Hillary supporter, who was never going to vote for a Republican at any rate, who thought Obama did just fantastic. But another – a genuine undecided – admitted to have been given signficant pause by Obama’s performance and, especially, Mac’s.