Liveblogging The Presidential Debate

I will be doing my customary liveblogging of tonight’s Presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi. This will be a major event in the campaign, and while the subject is ostensibly to be foreign policy, expect that the debate will be predominantly about the state of the economy. As always, analysis and reaction to the debate will follow.

UPDATE: 7:50 PM The debate will begin shortly. Right now, the conventional wisdom is that McCain is at the disadvantage. That’s probably correct, but the question remains whether that will be the case at the end of the night.

Jim Leherer of PBS is the moderator tonight.

UPDATE: 7:55 PM The economy will probably dominate this debate, even though it is supposed to be about foreign policy. The Obama people think that will help him.

UPDATE: 8:00 PM The debate is about to begin. Leherer is at his table, but the candidats have not yet taken the stage.

UPDATE: 8:02 PM Jim Lehrer is giving the ground rules. The global financial crisis will be on the agenda. The candidates are taking the stage.

UPDATE: 8:03 PM Lehrer begins by quoting Eisenhower and the first questin is on the economy. Obama is first to answer.

He’s already falling into the trap of winding up to the answer. But his main points are fairly clear. The problem is that four points is a bit much. Of course, he goes after Bush.

UPDATE: 8:05 PM McCain mentions Sen. Kennedy. Which is nice, but he needs to be stronger.

McCain’s answer is good, but it’s not as strong as it could be right now. He seems to be endorsing much of the Republican plan.

McCain’s energy is down. This doesn’t help him on the age issue.

UPDATE: 8:08 PM Neither really answered the question. Lehrer, doing a good job as moderator, calls them on it. Obama goes right back to blaming Bush. The problem is that unless McCain does something, Obama will get away with it.

McCain’s statement about foreign oil was out of place.

UPDATE: 8:10 PM McCain’s point about accounability is very good. But he needs to be making this point more forcefully.

Obama’s message is clear: Bush is at fault. What is McCain’s message? He needs to find it fast, or he’ll end up getting steamrolled.

Lehrer wants more interplay between the candidates. That would be good.

UPDATE: 8:13 PM McCain needs to be stressing his experience right now. Don’t agree, distinguish.

So far Obama is treading water, and so is McCain. That gives the advantage to Obama, however.

UPDATE: 8:14 PM McCain hits on spending. Good. He needs to hit that point strongly all night. His energy picked up when he talks about spending. He’s getting into the groove, and now he’s going on the offense. He’s doing better, but is it better enough?

UPDATE: 8:17 PM Obama hits back on taxes. And again, the comparisons with Bush.

Obama’s attack was good, but McCain’s response was good. Hitting back on spending was also a good move. The clash tonight is really picking up.

McCain needs to portray Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal. He’s close, but he needs to make the contrast clear.

UPDATE: 8:20 PM Obama is on message. McCain is also finding his message. I think that Obama has a narrow edge, but I think McCain’s message is resonating.

The problem with this whole discussion is that taxes doesn’t have much to do with the situation at hand. Lehrer should try to keep this debate more focused.

Obama’s message on tax simplification is a strong one. But it’s not as though that he’s got much credibility on cutting taxes.

UPDATE: 8:25 PM McCain finally stresses the value of his record. That helps him. He’s trying to get under Obama’s skin, which is the smart strategy.

UPDATE: 8:26 PM Lehrer gets back to the original question. Lehrer is very hands-off tonight.

His question about how to pay for the bailout is a smart one.

Obama immediately strays from the topic. He may be a lawyer, but no advocate could get away with this in an oral argument. Why don’t we have federal appellate judges moderate these debates? That would be interesting…

UPDATE: 8:28 PM McCain talks about cutting spending. He says he would eliminate ethanol subsidies. Oh well, he wasn’t going to win Iowa anyway.

Now he’s going on defense spending. This is a smart move on his part. Defense spending is out of control. He’s painting himelf as a reformer, but he could be more forceful.

Obama: I’ll spend more. McCain: I’ll spend less. Obama’s answer was a complete tangent from the question. Lehrer, to his credit, seizes on this.

Call me formal, but I don’t like this first name basis thing.

UPDATE: 8:31 PM Obama mentions the Obama-Coburn bill. Which, to his credit, was a very good bill.

Lehrer wants an answer. McCain proposes a spending freeze. That’s a good policy.

Obama wants to spend more. Lehrer is hitting him harder on this issue than McCain is.

McCain goes for nuclear power. Good for him. Very good for him. But could he be more ambitious than 2030?

UPDATE: 8:34 PM Lehrer wants a simple answer to a direct question. McCain’s spending freeze was an answer. Obama just keeps going back to how much more he wants to spend. McCain should hit back on that.

“As President, I would have to make some tough decisions…” Well, duh. That’s not an answer.

UPDATE: 8:36 PM McCain hits Obama on spending. I would have loved for him to say that government-run healthcare would be another Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Sadly, he didn’t hit on that point.

I think McCain’s anti-spending campaign will help him. Obama’s silly little lines against Bush are transparent. That’s what the Democrats want him to say, but McCain handled his response well. I don’t think that the whole McCain = Bush line works as well as they think. McCain is not Bush, and the differences are stark.

UPDATE: 8:39 PM Lehrer asks him about the lessons of Iraq. It’s a good question, and a softball for McCain. His answer is strong, even if his speaking style is not the best.

Obama’s response is predictable. The Democrats want to refight 2003 all over again. McCain needs to hit him hard on the Afghanistan issue. Can the American people trust Obama to tough it out in Afghanistan? It will be a tough fight, and Obama is opening himself up on this issue, and McCain should go after him on it.

UPDATE: 8:42 PM McCain hits him back on the surge issue. This is about judgment, and Obama’s judgment in the last two years has been wrong. Even if he was right then, that doesn’t mean that he has the judgment to lead.

Obama has to admit that the surge worked. Obama just set himself up for a smackdown by thinking that McCain supported the 2003—07 policy. He was one of the toughest critics of that strategy.

Obama’s rate of speech really increased in that last answer. That seems to be a tell with him.

So far, McCain seems to be narrowly winning this part of the debate. Selling opposition to the war now is not easy as it was two years ago.

McCain did a smart thing by tying the victory in Iraq to winning in Afghanistan. He needs to hit that harder.

UPDATE: 8:47 PM Obama wants to refight the past. He’s clearly on the defensive right now, which does not help him. However, McCain needs to hit him on the Afghanistan issue.

For all the talk about McCain’s temper, Obama seems really testy right now. McCain hasn’t walked away with this, but he comes off with more credibility here.

UPDATE: 8:50 PM The next question is about Afghanistan. Obama repeats the lie that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before th
e war. McCain should call him on it.

Obama is doing fairly well here. His pronunciation of “Pakistan” is more correct, but it seems odd for an American to use it.

McCain talks about Pakistan. He needs to remind the American people that Pakistan is a nuclear power, and we don’t have the leverage.

He hits on how we need to apply the lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan. His answer is strong here. This is a reverse of the first half hour. Now Obama is treading water. Neither candidate has won, and neither has lost. McCain needs an advantage though, and so far the dynamics of this race have not changed.

UPDATE: 8:56 PM Obama’s response is fairly strong, but completely nondescript.

McCain talks about the Lebanon issue. He’s reinforcing his judgment on the issues, but it seems out of place here. Then again, Obama hasn’t made the case here. McCain should remind the country that his son is in the military.

McCain has the gravitas advantage here.

“I’ve got a bracelet too.” Gag me with a spoon. Obama’s logic here is silly. Yes, U.S. troops will have died in vain if we leave Iraq in tatters.

McCain’s attack on Afghanistan is right: Iraq and Afghanistan are linked, and not in the way Obama says they are.

UPDATE: 9:03 PM The next question is about Iran. McCain pushes a League of Democracies. This is one of my personal favorites. That’s an interesting tactic for him to take.

McCain takes a hawkish line on Iran. That’s exactly the line he needs to take.

Both candidates confuse the Iranian Revolutionary Guards with the former Iraqi Republican Guard.

Obama’s answer is basically a “me too” to McCain. If Obama thinks that we can get sanctions through with Russia and China, he’s an idiot.

Obama goes for the “direct democracy” line. That was stupid.

UPDATE: 9:08 PM McCain goes after Obama on speaking to Ahmadinejad. McCain’s energy level on this question is high. His answer is strong here.

Obama’s response about not inviting Ahmadinejad over for tea is cute, but his logic is completely wrong. Talking without preconditions does not mean what he apparently thinks it means.

Obama is basically agreeing with McCain, but doesn’t understand that he is. McCain would not talk to Iran unless they stop threatening Israel. Obama seems to agree. That is a precondition, Sen. Obama.

UPDATE: 9:12 PM McCain gets in a good line about not having a seal yet. Nice.

McCain’s doing well here, and Obama keeps trying to interrupt. That doesn’t play well, I don’t think.

And still Obama doesn’t know what the phrase “without preconditions” means. If Obama wants to run on a platform of talking to Iran, go ahead.

McCain just had the first strong moment of the debate. Too bad he didn’t get to that earier. Could this help him? Probably not, but it could hurt Obama to a small extent. Security-minded voters already support McCain, and Obama has done nothing to change that tonight.

UPDATE: 9:17 PM The question about Russia. Obama just said he supports NATO expansion. I guess Palin’s comments in that regard aren’t so dangerous now, since Obama just endorsed the same principles.

McCain comes out swinging. His line about Putin was great. His point about energy security is a good one. I also note that he used the familiar form of the Georgian President’s name. Something that serves as a VERY subtle reminder that he knows what he’s talking about.

Watch Ukraine. Indeed.

Obama is right. There isn’t much daylight between them, which makes Obama look like a “me too” candidate. Obama hurt himself on Iran, and he’s treading water here. McCain has the advantage here, but this election won’t be decided on these issues.

Obama has a great stage presence, which isn’t surprising. But McCain is at least holding is own. So far McCain has had the strongest moment with the talking to Iran bit, but neither candidate has drawn real blood.

UPDATE: 9:24 PM McCain gets a riposte on energy, and Obama keeps interrupting. I don’t think that helps him. “I have never objected to nuclear waste.” Quoting people out of context is fun.

Final question: how likely is another 9/11? McCain has the first crack. Again, he draws the contrast between himself and Bush.

Obama keeps glowering at McCain. His presence has been strong, but that kind of thing doesn’t look good for him.

Both candidate say we’re safer, but not safe. Which is true. Obama is right about chemical plants and ports. However, suitcase nukes may not actually exist. (Although they are possible in theory.) Nuclear missiles do.

Obama talks about us being disrespected in the world. B.S. If that were true, why have pro-American leaders replaced anti-American ones across Europe?

McCain comes out swinging on Iraq again. For once, I don’t think that the anti-war side is that strong. It never is when we’re clearly winning.

UPDATE: 9:32 PM Obama accues us of being “solely focused” on Iraq. Other than where we’re not. Obama is saying what his side wants him to say, which isn’t going to resonate with security voters. He goes back to the economy, which is more solid grond for him.

We’re not talking about losing this war? Actually, Senator Obama, that’s what you would have had us do.

McCain lays it on the line, and even compares Obama to Bush in his stubbornness. That’s the kind of tactical move he should have been making all night. Again, Obama has to overcome McCain’s credibility on these issues, and he just hasn’t been able to do that. The problem for McCain is that Obama does not need to do so to keep his lead.

UPDATE: 9:35 PM Does Obama really believe that the world doesn’t see us in the same light these days? And that investing in education will fix that?

McCain gets the last word in. His push for normalizing relations with Vietnam is a great story, and he should tell it more often.

The debate is over. Reactions to follow.