By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Liveblogging the final debate

McCain had two pretty good debates. Obama had three. I don’t think Obama made any mistakes that can be used against him tonight, though it’s too soon to say. He was fluent and fluid, if not particularly inspiring.

McCain, meanwhile, was just awful — rambling, incoherent at times, ineffective in his attacks, petulant and occasionally angry. This isn’t going to move the polls — certainly not in McCain’s direction.

Best performance of the night: Bob Schieffer. Folksy and charming, and he got out of the way.

11:14 p.m. Wow. CBS News’ insta-poll of uncommitted voters shows Obama winning the debate by a margin of 53 percent to 22 percent. To the extent that you can trust such things, that’s huge. CNN’s insta-poll has similar margins, though it’s slightly skewed toward Democratic voters. And that’s it for tonight. I’ll be rounding up media commentary for the Guardian bright and early.

10:39 p.m. Pundits tying themselves in knots to say nice things about McCain. John King: McCain’s best debate! No way. As CNN went to the break, I could hear Bill Bennett in the background, pimping the lie about Obama and infanticide.

10:28 p.m. Seth gives it to Obama, big-time.

10:27 p.m. Whoa! McCain ends on a sarcastic, snappish note. “Got it — heh, heh.”

10:25 p.m. Why does Sarah Palin know about autism “better than most”? That’s the second time McCain has said that. Is he confusing autism with Down’s?

10:19 p.m. Joe the Plumber hits Twitterspace.

10:16 p.m. Judges and abortion — not a ratings hit. But I wonder how it will play that McCain can barely manage coherently to lodge his accusations, and Obama easily swats them away. McCain’s response: Don’t trust Obama’s “eloquence.” What, he’s supposed to sound tongue-tied?

10:03 p.m. Let the fall health-plan reruns begin. McCain: He’ll fine small businesses! Obama: He’ll tax your insurance! And all of it aimed at Joe the Plumber. What about me?

9:59 p.m. Joe the Plumber! Time for a drink.

9:56 p.m. McCain is singing an ode to President Uribe of Colombia, an ally with a dubious record on human rights.

9:47 p.m. Schieffer’s doing pretty well, I think. Brokaw was sour and obsessed with the clock. Schieffer is not only letting them mix it up, but he seems engaged in a positive way.

9:46 p.m. Now drinking Harvest Moon. This debate isn’t worth anything better.

9:45 p.m. McCain just lied about Biden wanting to divide Iraq into “three countries.”

9:41 p.m. Schieffer throws Obama a high knuckleball that doesn’t break: Why is Biden better than Palin? Obama’s now trotting around second base.

9:40 p.m. Here we go on William Ayers and ACORN. Good grief. McCain can barely make a coherent statement tonight. Obama’s response is devastating in a suitably low-key way.

9:34 p.m. You could look it up: I’ve scored the first two debates as a tie. McCain’s coming off as a doddering old coot tonight.

9:32 p.m. Good for Obama. He’s not only not repudiating John Lewis, he’s giving him some cover.

9:31 p.m. Joe the Plumber! Where is he? If he’s in the audience, bring him up.

9:28 p.m. McCain: “You didn’t tell the American people the truth because you didn’t.” Nyah, nyah.

9:25 p.m. Schieffer: You’ve both been naughty. The dread specter of equivalence rears its head.

9:24 p.m. McCain is coming off as rambling and unfocused. Obama’s not at his sharpest, but he’s better than McCain so far. McCain: Name me one thing on which you’ve opposed your party. Obama: Bing, bing, bing.

9:20 p.m. McCain is peppering Obama with scattershot charges. Should Obama respond to each one, or take a broader approach? He seems to be opting for the broader approach.

9:12 p.m. Plumbers make more money than lefthanded relief specialists. I mean, they deserve it, but I’m not surprised Joe makes more than $250,000 a year.

9:07 p.m. It all comes down to Joe the Plumber.

9:01 p.m. Trader Joe’s microwave popcorn actually tastes like corn.

8:59 p.m. I always get a kick out of seeing the moderator alone on the stage with the crowd dead silent. Thank you, C-SPAN.

This should be interesting. It hasn’t started, and I’m already nodding off on the couch.

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Lesson not learned


Time to reboot


  1. Nial Liszt

    Have yet to see one of the most important questions from the previous debates addressed here. O-Fish-L… can we call you O?

  2. Steve

    Will we see Obama challenge McCain’s Fannie/Freddie line?It’s a matter of some controversy now.

  3. Steve

    McCain is looking at Obama this time.

  4. Steve

    Joe is a good case. If he’s a plumber making more than $250K/yr, he’s some plumber!

  5. Steve

    Schieffer is letting them talk – good for him.

  6. Steve

    Wrong! You’re in the tank for some plumbers’ union. And that’s going some! For the record, Javier Lopez made $840K this year. For what, I’m not so sure.

  7. Steve

    Obama’s not making any notes?

  8. Steve

    Good line by McCain (‘you should have run 4 years ago’). I don’t know if there’s any beef there though.

  9. Steve

    There, Obama made a note. Looks like he’s noting the “peppershot” and replying to some specifics.

  10. Steve

    Oops, McCain was effective in his summation of “standing up to your party”, but put a jab into Obama at the end. Mistake, I think.

  11. Steve

    Is McCain going to bring up Ayers or is Schieffer?

  12. Steve

    Dan, if you want to attack equivalence close to home, Keller posted on it a couple of days ago.

  13. acf

    Now McCain is trying to blame the nasty tone of his campaign on Obama because he didn’t agree to town hall meetings?

  14. Steve

    100%. Not true in general. True for the past week or two I’ve heard.

  15. Aaron Read

    Hmmm, McCain “shocked eyes” look when Obama mentioned Fox News was amusing, almost humanizing. But I could see how it could turn against him, too.Oh snap. McCain just had the gall to blame Obama for his own campaign’s nastiness (the ‘palling around with terrorists’ bullcrap). He’s giving Obama a huge opportunity to deliver a righteous smackdown here…

  16. acf

    McCain is trying to defend the nasty things said at his rallies. It’s not his fault. It happens. It happens at Obama rallies. The difference is that he and Palin are inciting the behavior, and winking when it happens.

  17. Steve

    Drat. Had to pause for 15 min so I’m not real time. So I’ll shut up now. 🙁

  18. mike_b1

    McCain has completely lost his mind. It’s unusual to see such a complete and utter meltdown like this. He can’t focus on a thing.Five years in a POW camp, down the drain!

  19. Steve

    Probably 10-15 minutes behind. Just got past Ayers and onto Biden/Palin. I’m on Scotch (Bunnahubbain or however you spell it) for the past hour. My recommendation – Dan, if you want to be coherent, stick with the beer.

  20. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: If that’s the case, I recommend that someone crack a beer open for McCain.

  21. acf

    Harvest Moon. Who brews that? I don’t know how they do this. I’m listening to McCain, and my family is having to scrape me off the ceiling because he makes me so crazy, I keep blowing my top.

  22. Dan Kennedy

    Acf: Coors, unfortunately.

  23. acf

    Now, McCain is trying to equate Obama with Herbert Hoover! I saw an article today, I think it was in the most recent Phoenix, that laid out how Bush’s legacy might be of the 21st Century Hoover. How’s that for a legacy?

  24. acf

    Dan: Coors, pour it out, or serve it to your Republican associates.

  25. Steve

    Still 15 minutes behind, got to the McCain “nuclear pants” comments.He just lost any chance at Nevada’s electoral votes.

  26. Steve

    Dan, you’re North Shore. Ipswich Brewery products should be mandatory!:-)I’m a Harpoon guy myself.

  27. mike_b1

    Steve, did you catch when McCain said he’d cancel the ethanol subsidies? He just lost the Midwest, too.

  28. Doug Shugarts

    Dogfish Head 60 here. I’m on my fifth bottle. Am eyeing the bottle of Balvenie in the kitchen.

  29. Doug Shugarts

    Save the corn. We need it for booze.

  30. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: Ipswich Ale is my favorite — IPA in the summer, regular during the rest of the year.

  31. mike_b1

    Palin has a kid with Down’s. Didn’t know she has an autistic child, too. Or did McCain mix them up?

  32. mike_b1

    Pat Buchanan and Bill Bennett call it for McCain “on points.” Big surprise there.The talking heads seem overly focused on who was the aggressor. I think the tape will show McCain’s muddled message will overwhelm any points he could have possibly scored with his attacks.

  33. mike_b1

    Nate Silver picks up on McCain tick: when he juts his tongue, he’s lying.

  34. Steve

    Mike – Lost the last half to family distractions. Taped it, though. I’ll check it.My wife (early intervention spec. – ears pricked up at “autism”) doesn’t think McCain was referencing Palin, just talking about a big issue.I agree with you – but I won’t tell her! 🙂

  35. mike_b1

    Here’s the transcript:”And I just said to you earlier, town hall meeting after town hall meeting, parents come with kids, children — precious children who have autism. Sarah Palin knows about that better than most. And we’ll find and we’ll spend the money, research, to find the cause of autism. And we’ll care for these young children. And all Americans will open their wallets and their hearts to do so.”I’m not so sure McCain wasn’t suggesting Palin’s kid has autism. What was even better came a moment before, when he mischaracterized Head Start:”I think the Head Start program is a great program. A lot of people, including me, said, look, it’s not doing what it should do. By the third grade many times children who were in the Head Start program aren’t any better off than the others.”Here’s Head Start’s mission: “It provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families.”In other words, HS serves at-risk kids. They aren’t expected to be ahead of their peers by third grade. Just bringing them to the mean marks a successful program.

  36. Bill N1VUX

    interesting if true … “McCain To ACORN: You Are ‘What Makes America Special'” “John McCain used to like ACORN, back when it was convenient for him to do so. Here’s a video of him heaping praise on ACORN.”

  37. O'Rion

    Obama had the opportunity to crush the notion of Palin as president. He should have knocked it out of the park, without a mean word being spoken. He didn’t, which is a failing of his. The John Lewis slur: sad, so dreadfully sad. I wished Obama had apologized then moved on to the banking failure.

  38. mike_b1

    Dan, the polls are skewed because the electorate is skewed: 40/30 D/R according to

  39. mike_b1

    Schieffer: So I’ll begin by asking both of you this question, and I’ll ask you to answer first, Sen. Obama. Why would the country be better off if your running mate became president rather than his running mate?McCain: “blah blah blah … She’ll be my partner… blah blah blah”mike_b1: Did you notice that never did he say she’d be a good president.Mrs. mike_b1: That’s because if McCain died, the CIA would immediately put a bullet in her head.

  40. O'Rion

    I’m completely aware of why it can’t be done, but I have a fantasy of seeing Obama use every gift, ability, virtue he has, to grind McCain into dust (including sarcasm,humor). But that wouldn’t be nice would it? So instead he fights with one hand tied behind his back and allows his opponent to stay in the game. And gives lame analysts cover, to say McCain fought to a draw.

  41. Steve

    O: It’s almost like Obama wants to try to govern from the center like he says, and a scorched earth campaign at this point would look very bad.He’s winning big time with these tactics. With 10-point leads in many polls, a debate draw is a big win. (Oh and BTW, as much as pundits say it was a draw, the undecideds once again give Obama a 2-1 advantage. A “draw” like that, I’ll take any day.)

  42. mike_b1

    Bill Kristol did his media colleagues a huge disservice last night by owning up to being a huge fan of McCain’s. We in the press really like him, Kristol said (I’m paraphrasing here as I wasn’t writing it down). He’s a great guy to sit around and tell stories with. He’s old school; for him politics aren’t personal.Unfortunately Kristol, as others, can’t separate their personal feelings about McCain the “old school” jokester from McCain the angry demented man with a judgment problem. And the American public has to suffer for it. That guy we saw last night didn’t even belong on the stage.

  43. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: Re the CNN poll — I should have noted that, because CNN did make a point of disclosing it. Interestingly no one today is mentioning the problem.You know a lot about polling … why not just do an after-the-fact adjustment? Maybe the total number of people surveyed is too small.

  44. Ani

    I had thought during the primaries that I would end up thinking that while I preferred Obama, McCain had some strengths that I would have liked to have voted for — but whatever strengths I had had the vague impression of McCain having, I haven’t seen them during the general election. Obama’s comfort level with both substance and delivery I am enjoying thoroughly. I suspect his HLS training comes in handy in these debates.

  45. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: From consider John King to be among most astute commentators out there, but he’s a little bit out of line in critiquing his own poll, which he’s said is skewed toward Democrats (the sample was something like D40, R30). It’s skewed toward Democrats because America is skewed toward Democrats! The party ID split in the country right now is very close to 40/30.Reaction?

  46. Michael Pahre

    Dan,Thanks for being one of the few people around who seems to recognize that Biden’s earlier proposal for a federal-type government structure for Iraq isn’t anything like what McCain portrays it so be.“9:45 p.m. McCain just lied about Biden wanting to divide Iraq into ‘three countries.'”The irony of McCain’s objection on this point is that Iraq has already devolved into a federal structure with two regions — Kurdistan and the rest of the country — such that McCain’s argument points to his lack detailed knowledge about the country. Maybe Joe Lieberman could whisper in his ear that currently in Kurdistan: the Iraq army is banned from deployment; passports are checked at the border crossings, even from the rest of Iraq; the Iraq flag cannot be flown; and even more fundamental issues are enshrined in law about the primacy of the Kurdistan constitution over the federal one.

  47. mike_b1

    No real reaction from me on the John King observation, other than I would agree with Silver.Look, as you well know, stats are not something taught in the typical J-school curriculum, which is highly unfortunate because so much of what works its way into stories is reportage and assessment of data. What gets me even more than McCain’s snake tongue is when journos confuse “percent” and “percentage points.” That King apparently doesn’t understand the data the CNN pollsters are collecting doesn’t make him a bad guy, just par for the course. But it’s a shame that one of his pollsters isn’t sitting his butt down and explaining it to him.

  48. mike_b1

    Dan, so here’s the CNN story:”The post-debate polls do not reflect the views of all Americans. They only represent the views of people who watched the debates.”The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll was conducted by telephone Wednesday night, with 620 adult Americans who watched the debate questioned. The survey’s sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.”(As an aside, shouldn’t they put these two grafs up top, instead of burying them at the bottom of the piece?)And …”The audience for the debate poll appeared to be a bit more Democratic — and a bit more Republican — than the U.S. population as a whole. Forty percent of debate watchers in the survey were Democrats and 30 percent Republicans.”CNN’s estimate of the number of Democrats in the voting age population as a whole indicates the sample is about 3 to 4 points more Democratic than the population as a whole, but also about 2 to 3 points more Republican than the population as a whole.”That last graf is a bit confusing, but what I think they are saying is that the electorate is made up of 36-37% D and 27-28%R. (I don’t know if there could be such a thing as a non-voting age party affiliation, but anyway…)If you pick 620 subjects at random, you should have plenty of data to get an accurate sample. I’m not sure what adjustment should be done. If the population is inherently biased, then the poll results will (and should) reflect that bias. If you correct for the inherent bias, then you are skewing the results.Now, I could see where you could segment the data based on registered Dems thought X, registered Repubs thought Y, independents/others thought X,Y,Z… Perhaps that’s what you are suggesting.

  49. O-FISH-L

    Nial, sure. Call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner. I didn’t know there was a lingering question pertaining to me. My bad.

  50. Dan Kennedy

    Now, I could see where you could segment the data based on registered Dems thought X, registered Repubs thought Y, independents/others thought X,Y,Z… Perhaps that’s what you are suggesting.Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. But then remix them. If CNN’s sample was 40 percent Democratic, but the public is only 35 percent Democratic, I don’t see why you can’t do an adjustment in the weighting. It’s not like pollsters don’t do that — it’s what “oversampling” is all about, isn’t it?

  51. Steve

    Hey, Dan, you’re a journalist, and journalists don’t learn statistics, so what do you know?(Just kidding – but is it true journos don’t get some basic numeracy training? That’s sad if true.)As I understand it, some pollsters DO do adjustments due to party distributions in their sample. Some do not. It’s a matter of some controversy.I don’t know for sure, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a discussion of this somewhere at fivethirtyeight.

  52. mike_b1

    Dan, that’s a fair question, one that addressed that last month.

  53. Nial Liszt

    Sure sign that the MsM already considers it “mission accomplished”– there has yet to be a story detailing how Joe the Plumber had to serve detention in trade school for chewing gum during pipe snaking class.

  54. Michael Pahre

    Re: CNN snap pollCNN is confused about the possibility of a biased sample in their snap poll based on party affiliation.If I heard the numbers on-air correctly last night, their survey had 4% too many Democrats (compared to the national average) and 3% too many Republicans. Yet their poll has a sampling error of 4%, so both samples fall within one standard deviation, i.e., no problem.The real problem in their sample was too few independents: nationally it should be 100-36-27=37%, but their poll had 100-40-30=30%, nearly two standard deviations outside of the sampling error. Such deviations are expected in 5% of such surveys — unusual, but not crazy given how many surveys are conducted.But that little bias is nowhere near being large enough to explain the overwhelming results of the survey.

  55. mike_b1

    michael: Regarding the numbers of Dems, it should be 4 percentage points, not 4%. Likewise, the Repubs number should be 3 percentage points, not 3%.The difference between 36 and 40% is much more than 4%. (I know you know that, of course.)

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