So my chocolate supply has now run out, which must mean it’s time to end this show and get some sleep. It’s been an enjoyable, educative, occasionally exhausting (the day after normally) and at other times energising experience watching the debates and doing this liveblogging lark. Thanks for reading and commenting. While the debates are over, there’s plenty more to come from me … especially from just over a week’s time when I head to the States and get to see and participate in what’s going on, rather than simply comment from afar.
 My simple verdict is 3 out of 3 wins for Obama; 4 out of 4 for the ticket, including Biden’s performance on the v-p debate. You can’t ask for any better than that.
 But the hatetalk wasn’t the worst McCain sunk too. There was a question on abortion and related ethical issues. BarbinMD (on Daily Kos) summarises McCain’s sentiment concisely: “Health of the mother? That’s extremist, liberal bullshit”. But I leave it to Jane of Firedoglake to best express the raw emotional response to hearing McCain’s answer:
“The most memorable moment of the debate — the one that should come back to haunt McCain — was when he sneeringly dismissed concerns for women’s “health” with regard to abortion. Contempt for women just oozed out of every pore of his being, and it was no stretch to imagine the same man turning to his wife and saying “at least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you c**t.” “
 Couple of things that I haven’t had a proper chance to mention as yet and that might be making waves in the day(s) to come, or not. And irrespective are important. Firstly, was McCain failing to directly and unequivocally “repudiate” (that his word for what he wanted Obama to do on several other matters) the worst excesses of the racism and threats of violence made by Republican supporters at some rallies. Instead, McCain was happy to “say, categorically, I’m proud of the people that come to our rallies.” McCain should rightly take a lot of stick on that. And it is why the perversion of the McCain campaign slogan is so apt: The Hate Talk Express.
 The election.twitter.com feed can sometimes be a bit overwhelming in the number of tweets coming through. And obviously a lot are heavily partisan (but still fun and valid) comments. One great thing is just the sheer breadth of information and election-related topics that are shared. A new and fascinating piece of info I’ve just picked up via seeing it referred to on twitter is about Obama buying ads in online video games. For instance X-box Live car racing gameplayers in ten States will be able to see ”a roadside billboard which carries Obama’s picture and says ‘Early Voting Has Begun’. Other billboards feature an Obama website address, voteforchange.com, and the words ‘Paid For By Obama for President’.” See here for more.
 Returning to the theme we pick up at this time of night after every debate, TV pundits vs pollsters and ordinary people. In my day job I sometimes rail against focus groups and polling, and with good reason when these seem to be the basis for making policy or communication decisions or exclude most of the population by only being done in swing seats. But on occasions, they serve a very valuable function. And after the debates is one of them. There’s another good discussion on Daily Kos about it, entitled “snap polls render pundits obsolete”. We’re not there yet; not do I think that’ll ever actually be the case fully. But he best line though is at the end of that post. “They don’t like it, but polling technology is one more way their role as gatekeepers has been diminished.” That’s the really important bit. And like the video mash-ups and clips spreading like wildfire through the web in the minutes and hours after the debate (see 0440 below), it is all about democratising political discourse.
 One of the clips of the night, and quite a laugh – if you’re not McCain or a Republican supporter – comes from McCain’s reaction in the health insurance segment to hearing Obama say “Joe plumber’s fine would be zero”. That moment has now been nicknamed McCain’s “deer in headlights” moment. See for yourself here. Politics can be cruel. And with all this new technology now at people’s fingertips, it can be even crueller, even quicker!
 Justin Webb hearts Schieffer, the moderator. That’s very much the impression from his comments on the BBC’s debate ticker , and also see back to  I agree Bob did a good job generally. Though that may also have a lot to do with the furniture and set, and the specific format of this debate – all not decided and completely out of the control of the moderator. But there’s a bit backlash on the progressive blogosphere to how it seemed that he often gave McCain the last word, or the extra comeback; making it seem even more than Obama was on the defensive and struggling. Ironically, as seen by the polling, those extra negatives and attacks from McCain may just hurt him more.
 Just realised McCain never said “my friends” once. Just shows that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
 Update on the CNN instapoll. Obama won big on credibility to deal with the economy. McCain lost big with his greater negative attacks.
 That ‘seeming presidential’ question is a biggie. Nate’s immediate post-debate analysis was “Congratulations, President Obama”, and he meant that both because there was no home-run or game-changer for McCain, but also because Obama came across so well. So calm as I pointed out earlier. And Trapper John (on Daily Kos) makes a nice point about this:
“And Barack Obama isn’t just cool — he’s redefined cool in politics. He’s gotten past 20 years of presidents who equate anger with passion. There hasn’t been a president who could keep an even keel since Reagan — and even then, he was more easy-goin’ than cool. Reagan was detached. But Barack Obama is engaged, intelligent, and calm — but he’s no Adlai Stevenson. He’s always cool”
 Taking it down to individual voter reaction: from the Twitter Churellies “tonight, for the first time I thought of what Obama would be like as “President” and I was happy.”
 “Obama wins big” is one of the headlines on Daily Kos. That’s not their analysis but the news from the instant polling. CBS undecideds: Obama 53, McCain 22. CNN: Obama 58, McCain 31. [Update] Even the Fox focus group went for Obama in a big way.
 The focus group results are coming in … and seems to be good for Obama. Joe the Plumber seems to have been a distraction and a turn-off mainly. The Ayers segment didn’t resonate either with swing voters.
 I can’t watch MSNBC coverage sadly (my housemate would kill me if I was watching TV downstairs, by her room), but you can catch up on what MSNBC stars Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan were saying at http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/10/15/1550252.aspx. Rachel is one of the new darlings of the progressives, but Pat is certainly not. But even he says Obama scored on issues like NAFTA which play well in places like Pennsylvania. Plus he “thought it was McCain’s best performance of the past 3 debates, but Obama was even more cooler and collected than he’s been.” Praise indeed from Pat.
 If you aren’t sick of him, but instead want to find out a bit more about who Joe the plumber is and the origins of why he’s come to promimence, see http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/10/15/who-is-joe-the-plumber/
 “Is Joe the plumber and Joe-6-pack the same person?” asks someone on CNN. Interestingly, the response seems to be (apart from someone better register “joe the plumber” as a domain, trade name, put it on vans etc), ‘I wanted it to be more about me and the issues, not about joe”.
 CNN is reporting from a debate viewing party in Atlanta, held in one of these super-churches. They had 4000 people turning up. To watch the debate. Holy cow! 4000. That’s four thousand. Three zeros after four. Incredible levels of interest. I’m guessing no drinking games either inside the church, just lots of audience participation and crowd noise I’m sure.
 Everyone’s talking about … Joe the plumber. “A whiff of absurdity” about how much he turned up says a commentator on BBC Radio 5 Live. A CNN analyst said that McCain’s repeated mentions of him went OTT and seemed contrived and possibly counter-productive.
 Good spot / factcheck from Sean on 538: “McCain keeps saying Palin’s son has autism, but it’s Down’s Syndrome.” Only a small point, but still fascinating that he didn’t get this right.
 I like this summary of McCain’s closing words on firedoglake: “I think we’ve had a very healthy discussion . . . even though “I’ve insulted you for the last 80 minutes.”
 That’s it. For 4 years. No more debates. But don’t worry. After 90 minutes of debate, 90 minutes of analysis. That’s how CNN pitches it just now, and that’s what I’m happy to provide and join in with too.
 Obama: “change, not the same failed policies as the last 8 years” – he’s good at repeating a constant narrative throughout his campaign. A really emotional, passionate ending by Obama.
 Final final closing statements by the candidates. McCain asks “who can you trust?”. Obama a lot of people will be shouting into their TV sets.
 A plug on TV for www.mydebates.org where you can see all the debates in full again. Hooray.
 I suspect they’ll be some comeback for McCain on this one. He refers to Michelle Obama but doesn’t actually name her. A bit like the “that one” non-naming of Obama last time.
 Another great line by Obama, almost immediately after the last one. ”America’s youth aren’t an interest group, they’re our future”.
 At last, Obama cracks a joke. “With Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative, he left the funding behind”. Nice line.
 McCain points out that some of the worst schools in America get the most money per student. Does it no occur to him that some of these schools might be in the most deprived areas where parents aren’t able to provide much support and there is a need to give much more state-funded support?
 The last topic – education – is answered. Oh no, the last topic. Already. But I am really enjoying this debate. And the whole debate fun in general. I can go on, can’t they?
 “Of course we have to come together” sounds a very pat line from McCain. You believe Obama much more when he talks about consensus-seeking and building. And that may be part of what Americans – at least subconsciously – are looking for after 8 years of Bush (or more if you include the partisan bitterness in Washington since 1994).
 Wait, McCain does come back on this one. And brings up Obama’s voting record, which Obama then has to spend a bit of time defending. This does put Obama on the back foot, but at least it gives him the opportunity and time to put his positions clearly and with dignity.
 Roe v Wade. Litmus tests and ideological standards for judges. McCain says he wants to pick on qualifications, but stays clear of talking about abortion. Keeping quiet is better for McCain than anything else on this. Obama on the other hand can – and does – speak more eloquently and emotionally on the rights of women, privacy and the role of the courts.
 Okay. I’m a little wiser now. But in a few seconds time I’ll have forgetten it all again. Not the most exciting segment. Very detailed. But very important too.
 Aha. Last time we got a tiny remark by McCain on fines if you don’t get health insurance, or something like that on Obama’s plans. Now we get a proper discussion about it. The question was answered, albeit a week later. I confess I don’t quite understand all the details, terminology and ins and outs of each candidate’s healthcare plans, as just described.
 Healthcare. We haven’t had a proper question on this for ages, until now. Interestly it is framed in terms of costs and what can we afford, not what should people deserve. McCain gets to bring up Joe the plumber again and how he would react to Obama’s healthcare plan.
 Obama as Herbert Hoover, that’s who McCain is trying to paint him as. I don’t buy that at all, especially as it is a reminder that it was a Democrat – FDR – who was the saviour at a time of Depression.
 McCain attacks Obama for not travelling south of America to places like Colombia. But that immediately makes me think of Palin and her not travelling anywhere outside the States until last year/
 Obama coming across as very cool and calm seems to be the general reaction. McCain less angry and frustrated than in the past, but still gives out signs of smirks, disrespect to Obama and other unsympathetic facial expressions. It comes across badly in the split screens the TV networks are doing a lot of this debate, showing the two men’s faces in close up side-by-side.
 One of McCain’s main attack lines seems to be ‘Obama will raise taxes’. It may not be true (except for the top 5% or so), but at least he’s decided to stick to a couple of main narratives and attacks and repeat them ad naseum, rather than the scatter-gun approach of before.
 McCain interestingly gives an unprompted backing and shout-out to Palin’s husband Todd, who got criticised alomng with his wife in the Troopergate report.
 “We’re going to sweep out the old boy’s club” says McCain about him and Palin. Does that mean he’ll sweep himself out too?
 538 and those on twitter are picking up on the fact that the wonderful CNN audience reaction dials show a significant gender gap. Women are digging Obama and really not liking McCain at all, certainly compared to the men. There is a stark gap on the bar chart each time McCain speaks.
 McCain was too chicken to mention Ayers by name. Obama picked that up and was able to give a clear positive answer on his relationship with Bill Ayers. “And the fact that it has become so much of a focus of your campaign McCain says much more about your campaign than mine”. ….. cracking response. I loved that.
 Ha ha. That’s hysterical. McCain mentions ACORN and suggests that they are about to perpetuate the biggest electoral fraud in history. Florida 2000? Ohio 2004? Republican-connected attempts to purge voter rolls?
 McCain seems a wuss and really thin-skinned. And scolding on the most minor of points.
 Brilliantly clear and effective response by Obama on Joe Lewis’s comments about the racism and nastiness at McCain rallies. McCain dismisses it as “just a few fringe people, you always get that”.
 There’s lots of talk on the wires about Bob Schieffer and his moderation, bringing equivalence to the negative ads and vitriol from both sides.
 McCain says his feelings have been hurt by the negative ads. 1,2,3 aaahh ….
 “Everytime a Republican has said an out-of-bounds remark I have repudiated it” says McCain. That doesn;t stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. Crazy in fact, given the films we’ve seen of Republican rallies.
 Obama brought up all the instances he stood up to the ‘special interests’ within his own party. Interesting to see if that gets any reaction from the blogosphere.
 Before I forget, I weighed into the quality of debate moderation issue over on the BBC website. My comment on Justin Webb’s views on this subject can be read here
 “Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you want to run against Bush you should have stood 4 years ago.”
 McCain going into specifics on how he would save money. Gets to mention not just earmarks but also his favourite example of “the $2million overhead projector for the Chicago planetarium”. I didn’t think it worked as an attack last time, but he and his advisors think otherwise.
 Blog of the day I’m following as an extra source of comment and fun is the great Firedoglake http://firedoglake.com/ - its a collaborative, unashamedly progressive blog and well worth a read.
 “Joe the plumber” is a lucky guy. He is the centre of this debate on the economic rescue package, and all for asking a question to Obama at a campaign event some weeks ago.
 McCain seems to have learnt from his past mistakes and is looking direct to camera and giving straight, simple answers; and attacking Obama in a more subtle way than before. The Twitter community is pointing out how much McCain is blinking. I hadn’t noticed it, but now it’s been pointed out to me ….. oh yeah.
 Instead of bland opening statements you have McCain and Obama explaining what their economic plans would be. McCain stresses help for home-owners and tries to put a dividing line between him and the Bush administration.
 The difference in tonight’s format, which will be much commenting on, is that both candidates are sharing a large desk, so are physically much closer together.
 We are about to be underway. Incidentally, earlier tonight I watched the ‘live’ presidential debate on the final series of West Wing. Excellent and gripping stuff. Hope this lives up to that kind of real debate.
 The wonders of advertising – I get a “pause” in programming whilst viewers in the States see some fun ads. On the subject of political ads, Obama has bought up 30mins of airtime on some of the big networks at the end of October, to give himself some unmoderated, unfiltered access to the American public. 30mins is a long time to fill, but he’s doing it partly to seem presidential.
 Are we going to get McCain hitting Obama on Ayers (the reformed Weatherman), just as he has promised to do? Negative attacks don’t seem to be working at this time, so will be interesting to see whether he spends time trying to do exactly that.
 So welcome to this final night of presidential debates. “I want to be a part of it …. New York, New York” is going round in my head. The candidates are at Hofstra University, upstate New York and about to resume moderated hostilities one last time. Shame, as I’ll miss these late night skirmishes, and the community of bloggers and others staying up to watch, comment and participate in proceedings.
 Okay, that’s me done for the night. My housemate will soon be getting up for work, and I have to do the same in only 4 hours or so. There’s one more debate to come, next week. Here’s hoping that is more successful and enlightening … but with the same good Obama result. And in the meantime, have a look at these photos capturing the flavour of debate watching, the election season, the diversity of America and Americans and the amazing roadtrip that the 538 site has been going on as part of their coverage.
 The instapolls are out and they say that Obama generally had a good night, and “won”; whilst McCain didn’t improve his own standings and seems to have “lost” or at best “drawn” proceedings. As significant as the numbers are, there’s something even more powerful about these instapolls. As Kos says – and its very much the theme of his book ‘crashing the gate’ and his new one which i am just reading ‘taking on the system’ – “we no longer need to suffer the conventional wisdom-setting power of the Right Wing Noise Machine pretending to speak for the American people. Today, the American people can speak for themselves.”
 It’s worth having a look at Justin Webb’s liveblogging of tonight; less for his own comments and more because it nicely brings together a range of views and contributions from bloggers, analysts and audience. I had also hadn’t seen its updated, cute look with all the symbols. Makes it more eye-catching than my efforts, that’s for sure.
 People want answers not attacks. They are less interested in body language than content. That’s what is being said in polls and in interviews, according to a CNN analyst. Whether that’s actually true or not, or the respondents are simply trying to sound intelligent and highbrow, the people didn’t get their wish tonight. There were more attacks than the last debate, and fewer concrete policy conversations.
 Time for some humour to stay awake for a bit longer. Just seen this on Twitter, which is credited to Jay Leno: “Mccain and Palin are a good ticket and go well together. Palin is pro-life and McCain is clinging to life”. I paraphrased it; it probably was better in its original form.
 Running out of energy. Much like the coverage. Georgia10 on Daily Kos sums up where we are after the debate: “in being ordinary when the circumstances called for the extraordinary, McCain ensured the status quo – which now heavily favours Obama – remains in place.”
 A facial analyst on CNN actually comes up with a good observation. Brokaw was the one who hit hardest about corporate greed and irresponsibility, channeling Main Street’s anger with Wall Street. Neither of the candidates quite tapped into the same sentiment or went as far.
 The all important – well, just interesting – Kos debate response. Null points to the debate format and to Tom Brokaw’s moderation. Obama did fine. McCain’s attacks didn’t work not because of the content but because (according to polling) McCain isn’t “trusted. And when the guy who isn’t liked attacks, he is liked even less.”
 The blogs and the youtube moment seems to be McCain’s calling of Obama “that one”. Reminds me of that West Wing episode (Season 2, episode 1) when Bartlet is angry at the suggestion that he shouldn’t refer to his opponent by name, and Bartlet responds by saying “won’t it make me look addled, or dotty. And even if doesn’t, it’s just a stupid idea”. Point proved tonight. Bartlett 1, McCain 0.
 And there was criticism of Brokaw from one of his own. They seemed to suggest that he was frustrated as an aloof journalist trying to stand above the partisan fray, and misjudged what what actually wanted / need from this debate. Daily Kos also picks this up.
 “There’s not enough town in this townhall” – Candy Crowley / Hilary Rosen both made this great comment on CNN. They noticed what I did – the flat atmosphere and the missed opportunity for a more back-and-forth debate, or for connections with people in the audience or wider.
 There was lots of backchat on twitter about McCain moving around so much on stage and how he looked a bit uneasy or weird.
 That’s the debate over. Muted applause from a muted audience. But the fun really starts backstage and in the spin rooms, chat rooms, and living rooms of the nation.
 McCain is more “I believe”, “my service”, “my record”, “my country”; while Obama was more about what the country has given him.
 A “zen-like question” on “what don’t you know”; and fittingly a zen-like answer from Obama to start with; which he then turns into a quick personal history, explanation of why he is running for President; and an optimistic note to end on.
 Oh, no. The last question. Already. Damn.
 Time for the obligatory genefluction to the Israel / Zionist lobby. And I saw Zionist not in conspiracy theory way but as it refers to that section of the evangelical Christian community who are more zealous and hawkish on Israel than many American Jews.
 McCain’s answer on Russia is the stronger. And then he actually for almost the first time comes across well when he expresses his genuine emotion when he thanks a questioner (who is a former military man) for his service.
 It’s weird not having any reaction allowed from the audience. Very unnatural and eerie, especially as the questions are mainly coming from the audience. We do things much better on BBCs Question Time. The applause, the occasional boos and just the subconscious human reactions of the live audience make better watching; and certainly so compared to these wavy lines across my screen.
 A back and forth bitter exchange on Afghanistan and attitudes to war and diplomacy. Brokaw finally has to give in and ‘allow’ follow ups. Wasn’t really allow, the candidates were at each other and too keen to get in another blow for Brokaw to hold them back. Not sure Obama was right though to use the phrase “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” in his comeback on McCain - he sounded a bit lame. Better to lack the yoof and the satirists (and us bloggers) do this dirty work.
 An exchange about soft words and big sticks. Sexual inneundo time. Next up perhaps, 1996 Republican candidate Bob Dole and his viagra advertising?
 A few minutes ago McCain said his hero was “Ronald Reagan”. Just now he said his hero was “Teddy Roosevelt”. Which is it? Has he forgotten what he said a few minutes ago? In which case, uh oh!
 The Obama doctrine is one of building up our international partners and our resources again. And a focus on humaniterian, life-saving missions and small steps rather than grand designs. The McCain doctrine seems to echo the Bush one on ‘staying the course’ and winning in Iraq, and on pushing ‘freedom’ and Americaan power.
 I think McCain just said “my friends again”, but I was munching on a square of chocolate. Thankfully those good folk on twitter are on the ball and confirm it, with hoots of derision aimed at the person who spoke those words.
 Foreign policy time. Obama responds to a line from McCain about “this is not the time to learn on the job”. Obama says: “You are right, there are some things I don’t understand ….. like how we got into Iraq in the first place, a country which had nothing to do with 9/11.” Touche!
 “Did we hear the size of the fine?” McCain asked before about whether Obama would answer this part of his health plan, and when no number was given he came back – in a snidey aside but one which may gain traction and get coverage in the hours ahead – to ask Obama again. Except he didn’t ask Obama, he pointed out in a whiney way to the moderator this. So point not as effectively made as it could have been.
 Watching CNN’s coverage with the live tracking, it is instructive to see that the 3 lines (Republican, Democrat and Independent supporters) diverge much more when McCain is speaking compared to when Obama is. McCain is geting the passionate, partisian reactions whilst Obama seems better at bridging the partisan divide – exactly the strength McCain says he has, not his opponent.
 McCain again framing his answers with “the fundamental difference between myself and Obama”. I guess he has to put up all these dividing lines (even where they aren’t so big) and going on the attack, to try and put fear and doubt and negatives about Obama in the minds of voters. But it is not attractive; especially the way he is doing it and the tone he is adopting.
 “Nuclear power and drilling” are McCain’s solutions to energy crisis. Obama supports both, but in moderation and in more of a proper mix with alternates. I get the impression that industry and big money lobbyists are closer to one of these candidates, and it isn’t Obama.
 All those at debate parties are going be drunk by now if they are playing the game. McCain just said “my friends” again.
 Brokaw still struggling with this moderation lark. Its a tough gig admittedly, and he is trying to be scrupulously fair.
 “For 30 years McCain says that politicians haven’t been doing anything [about energy]. But for 26 years he has been there, in the Senate. And he has done nothing.” Good hit by Obama.
 “I was on boats that were nuclear-plants” says McCain. I know he means nuclear powered, but I just liked the funny image that he has just conjured up.
 Another occasion when McCain comes across as condescending towards the person who asked the question. And – I missed this a few minutes ago – another time McCain says “my friends”. This is getting the Twitterati enraged. Many are saying “I am not your friend, Mr McCain”.
 I bet Charles Kennedy (Liberal Democrat leader at the last general election) is wishing he could have explained his tax policies as well and clearly as Obama is doing so now.
 Obama has really hit upon a strong narrative – not just for this debate but for the whole campaign. See 0234. He hit back at McCain’s suggestion of across the board spending freeze as this was not fairly sharing the burden, it would hit the poorest or most needy people hardest.
 Obama: “all of are going to contribute, all of us going to suffer … but we need a fair sharing of the burden” -and by that he meant including the wealthy sharing the burden.
 Brilliant answer on leadership, by Obama (who else?). He attacked Bush’s response to 9/11 by saying that Bush’s call to shop for the nation was not the type of service that was required.
 McCain says he wants “a spending freeze, except for defence and veterans affairs” – so he is prioritising wars over the domestic travails of his fellow citizens.
 Tom Brokaw is struggling to keep the candidates to time and to task. He yet again reminds them about the rules of the debate. You get he feeling he’s not quite in control here. McCain and Obama want too much to getttheir talking points and their hits in.
 McCain dodged the prioritisation of issues question. He said he’d do all 3. Obama’s response is much clearer and punchier.
 McCain doesn’t learn. He just can’t help himself. He is spending all this question dissing Obama and doing him down. Can’t see it working, except to energise his own base. The CNN real-time rater by a panel of voters seems to agre with me.
 McCain: “the system is Washington is broken.” Look at me I am a maverick, a bi-partisan; not another Bush he is trying to stress.
 Obama speaking and there was a cut back shot of McCain looking quite sneering and unsympathetic.
 From twitter (KingNerd): “a vote for Obama is a vote for a recession. A vote for McCain is a vote for a depression.” Nice. I’m sure that’s a campaign slogan but I hadn’t heard it until now.
 Fannie and Freddie. I pity anyone called those names in the States, because now they have such negative connotations. McCain just laying into them.
 Nice to know from twitter feeds that i’m not the only who struggles with McCain’s voice. It’s just not that easy to listen to. Though when he gets passionate rather than condescending it’s better.
 Possible Treasury Secretaries: Meg Whitman (Ebay CEO) for McCain; Warren Buffet for Obama.
 McCain is walking around and a bit more animated. “I have a plan” he says. Uh oh. Starts off on energy independence as the long-term solution; then quotes some scary big stats which i didn’t quite follow but I guess were there to scare us. But quite sound generally.
 Obama sounding very sober and sombre, but with a little kick on city execs to show some passion.
 “prosperity hasn’t rained down on all of us and now we need to take strong actions.” Obama kicks off straight away on the subject of the hour.
 Tom Brokaw of NBC - a great man – is the moderator. And this may be more exciting than I thought. There will be 1 minute follow-ups and the candidates haven’t actually seen the questions. Happy to correct myself on that. Hooray.
 How much are we going to her on the economy? Lots I suspect. Wonder if Alistair Darling will be taking notes ahead of his important speech before the stock market opens in a few hours.
 Okay. I’m back and ready for this debate. I’m in London. The debate is in Nashville, Tenneesse. Townhall format for the debate – see my post on this from earlier today.
After the excitement of last week’s v-p debate, tonight’s debate may be a quieter affair. And I’m not talking about what happens in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m talking about what happens in towns, cities, houses and bars across the US. The debate parties tonight may take on a calmer tone … and not just because the Dow fell another 5% earlier. Its all down to Sarah Palin and and the passions on both sides that she stirs.
A Californian friend, blogger and Obama volunteer co-ordinator, drew my attention to what happened at these debate parties last time. She reported that people were literally yelling at the TV whenever Sarah Palin spoke. Indeed, there’s a piece from her local Pasedena paper http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/ci_10625072 - look at the photo gallery. Most people had their head in their hands when Sarah came on screen.
The conversation I had with her confirms what I’ve been hearing from others as well, that Palin not only infuriates a certain part of the Democratic base, she does so for some Republicans too, particularly women, who really are offended by her whole cutesy act. I realised that Palin gave Democrats a real fundraising and activist boost straight after her selection, but reports from Obama campaign offices and high anti-Palin merchandise sales suggest that this is still continuing in a big way.
Palin does provoke huge negative reaction in the UK - even amongst Conservatives who support McCain. But
I have been surprised at the level of visceral hatred of her by quite a lot of women. I’m not sure that was factored in to McCain’s calculations when he picked her.
Amusingly, I received comments saying how people thought I was being very fair and even to Palin in my liveblogging of the debate. Perhaps it was just that I was not yet completely out of my diplomatic, holding-my-tongue, non-partisan mode from my few days with the Conservative party earlier that week.
When is a debate not a debate? Tonight would seem to be the answer.
According to this slightly tongue-in-cheek but clear explanation by Electoral-Vote.com:
“the Obama-McCain event tonight consists of two parallel press conferences that happen to be in the same room. The detailed rules hammered out by the two campaigns state that the questions were to have been submitted in advance by the audience members and over the Internet. The questioner may not change the question and the microphone will be cut off after the question. Neither the questioner nor the moderator, Tom Brokaw of NBC, may ask followup questions. The candidates may not question each other. There will be no debate at all. Who does this format favor? Probably neither candidate. Usually the questions the general public asks aren’t very hard, are largely predictable in advance, and have already been asked 100 times (“how will you fix the economy?”). The candidates have stock answers they will roll off. Given the current state of polling, McCain needs to shake things up and Obama needs to keep the status quo. An event that doesn’t rock the boat much thus de facto works for Obama. Nevertheless, once in a while something unexpected happens at one of these events.”
It reminds me of the one televised ‘debate’ between the Labour party’s deputy leadership candidates last year, on BBC’s Newsnight. They individually (and on a separate part of the stage) gave a short intro spiel, then stood in a row and were fired questions by host Jeremy Paxman. There was virtually no opportunity for debate between the candidates or for an unscripted and enlightened conversation to flow.
Still, anything is probably better than the nothing we have in the UK in terms of general election time debates between the leaders of the 2, 3 or 4 main parties. Weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time has some positives, but is not a suitable format for more than just soundbites, partisan cheerleading and on the odd occasion holding the leader to account. And there would be no PMQs in the immediate run up to an election anyway, as Parliament would be dissolved.
In the past few elections there have been calls – from the challenger, as well as from organisations involved in increasing turnout – for TV debates between the main party leaders. But the Prime Minister (Tony Blair and before him John Major) have always refused. Major preferred his soapbox and Blair his daytime TV confessionals. Recently, David Cameron has raised the issue of debates again. Interestingly, there is now more reason for the incumbent to accept. Brown is trailing in the polls and might feel it is worth the risk, in order to either land one of his clunking fists on Cameron, or simply change media / public perceptions him and rebut conventional wisdom. He’s just done that with bringing back Peter Mandelson into the Cabinet, so who knows maybe he’ll make a similar decision on the debates?
 Until Tuesday night and the next Obama-McCain debate, that’s it for the liveblogging.
 In closing, the debate is summarised on Daily Kos as “the student versus the statesman”. That’s how it seemed to me as well, on one level. And Bill Schneider, senior analyst on CNN, has said pretty much the same thing. But on the other hand, Palin’s folksy charm and smiling was quite appealing, even to me. I doubt this debate is going to be a game changer, or even sway too many voters. Early polling reaction seems to bear this out. Interestingly, although I go on about Palin exceeding her low expectations, Biden apparently seems to have exceeded his expectations by not doing any major gaffes and a more emotional, personal style too. He impressed me too and I think his positives will rise after a quiet few weeks. But I think Palin’s negatives may stabilise after falling heavily recently, and the Republican base may be re-energised a bit after a bad few weeks, so halting (but unlikely to do anything to reverse) Obama’s healthy lead.
 Palin receives a rapturous welcome at the Republican post debate party. She’s actually very good in this type of partisan setting, rallying the faithful and combining both passion and zinging lines. The crowd is loving it, and so is she. This is like a repeat of her Convention speech, and I haven’t seen anything like it since. She really does fire up the base in a way McCain never has done and could never do. I think I am witnessing the start of her run in 2012. Seriously, I think she could do very well in the Republican primaries.
 CNN just interviewed a guy from the website www.vicepresidents.com – that may be one to look at for historical context to tonight’s debate. Though you may have to wait, as the site seems to have crashed after being plugged on national TV.
 Returning to something from the last debate. The good performance of the moderator. Kos notes it adroitly as: “Gwen Ifil was excellent. Like Lehrer, I forgot she was on stage, and that’s the way moderators should be” . Indeed, I was so focused on Palin and Biden and their exchanges, that I barely noticed the interventions from Gwen; except the times she wryly asked them to answer the question or reminded them they were out of time. Makes such a pleasant change from the way the Democrat primary debates were so badly and partisanly moderated.
 Palin mainly holding her own against the more experienced Biden is a draw according to the analysts in the media. Exceeded those low expectations. (See 0254). But as Kos says: “she needed to prove that she could get beyond pre-packaged talking points to demonstrating some capacity for analytical thought. In that regard, she failed.” Several people on Twitter note how close Palin is to her cartoonish SNL caricature. I think that’s unfair; she seemed more confident at times than her SNL persona, but there was still plenty that fitted so well with her caricature.
 Palin did have a few good lines “Obama flying the white flag on Iraq” was one; and on education. There was no ‘car crash’ and she did the down-to-earth thing very well. She wasn’t ripped to shreds by Biden; partly I suspect as he saved most of his criticisms for McCain. Palin learnt from McCain’s mistakes last time, and there was little snarky comments or nasty attacks.
 “Cute and adorable, but not quite so (vice)-presidential” is the succinct summary on Palin by Bill Nicholson, USA Today night editor, speaking on Radio5Live.
 Biden has done well in the final sections to emotionally connect with the audience (in the hall and on TV), giving heartfelt anecdotes about his family, his experience and his values. That was one area it was feared he would fall down on, so he’s done well in that respect. Update : see this clip from the debate for the bit when Biden talks about his family and the hardships and personal tragedy that he has experienced. It felt – and is certainly being reported as – a real ‘I feel your pain’ moment, succesfully and genuinally connecting Biden with ordinary voters.
 Palin really is a political lightweight and novice, without much of her own experience or understanding beyond Alaska and her family. Anywhere else that might really matter and hurt electorally. I’m less sure it’s such a thing in the US. It worked for Bush in 2000. If Obama wasn’t so strong and McCain so weak a candidate, it might work again this year.
 I wish my bingo card just had the word “maverick” on all its squares. I would have had crossed off every square by now.
 OMG. This is brilliant. Biden has just hit a home run on McCain. “He is not a maverick on anything that really matters to people.” And he continues in that vein in a wonderful, cleverly worded attack on McCain. A planned exchange no doubt, but I bet it works.
 Biden: “People are looking for help, not more of the same”. I immediately think of the rhyme “McCain, McSame.” So does the McCain campaign team obviously, as they have coached Palin to rebut this directly give as one of her number one talking points that “we need change. Change is coming. John McCain is a maverick and will lead the reform.”
 Palin says she wants a bit more executive power for the V-P position. Hmm. Controversial.
 “Oh, say it’s not so, Joe.” Palin going all folksy, or rather even more so than usual. She’s actually quite charming and believable when she’s like this, and explaining education policy. Even cracks a joke on school credits. But makes me think small town mayor, or maybe at best inspirational primary school head teacher, not major national political figure. Then again she gave a ‘shout out’, so maybe a dj or talk show host would suit her better. I’m beig elitist though, I think it may play better in some sections of US society so it may actually be a good strategy from her; going on her strengths and her differences from Biden / Obama.
 Huge traffic on twitter surrounding Palin’s comment that “McCain knows how to win a war”. Almost unanimous calling her out on this. Vietnam? I’d love to see the news site’s FactCheck on this one.
 Palin is struggling. She was rambling, trying to mark snarky comments, searching through her notes, her body language is awkward and she sounds goofy. But she somehow pulls out a strong answer on Darfur and divestment. Again though it all comes down to what has done in Alaska, rather than anything relating to the other 49 states or a national policy.
 The consensus on the blogs and twitter is that – unsurprisingly – Biden is winning the foreign policy section hands down. Only issue I have is he getting a bit wordy, and sometimes changing tack or restarting sentences midway through a point.
 “Past is prologue” says Biden. We’ll be dissecting that for weeks, its such a wonderful and multi-layered line.
 “We are fighting terrorists and building schools in Afghanistan” says Palin. Biden hits back hard: ”facts matter. Our commanding general there says an Iraq-type surge won’t work.” I would also add that it seems disingenous at best and heartless at worst for Palin to dismiss the bombing and killing of civilians, as she seemed to do.
 Sean on 538 says: “I can foresee the praise for Palin’s performance on the post-mortem cable shows already. She has beaten expectations – the lowest expectations in history.” Exactly what I’ve been warnign about these past few days, and am feeling at the moment. Palin has had enough okay moments for this to be true no matter what happens the final half hour of the debate; even though Biden is so much stronger.
 Israel: “a peace seeking nation” says Palin. History may say otherwise. Also it is outside pressure that has helped to bring Israel to the table or moved things on to a point where Israel feels safe enough to conduct peace negotations. Palin doesn’t seem to acknowledge this. Biden points this out.
 Palin gives a very passionate answer on “freedom” and not talking to our enemies.
 Palin gets one over her boss: she can say “Ahmadinejad” properly and first time. And to rub it in she does it twice in a minute.
 “God love him, but he has been dead wrong” – Biden on McCain. He started out quite muted I thought, but has really started getting into his stride and hitting some big ones. Tweets seem to think the oil / climate change exchanges were the turning point for Biden and has been performing much better since.
 Biden on Iraq: “I didn’t hear a plan [from Palin/McCain]. Obama has a plan”. Its just like earlier this week at Tory Party Conference, with their slogan “Plan for Change” and claims of no plans and new ideas from Labour.
 DailyKos is noting that Palin seems to be looking down at her notes more and more, and wonders whether this will become even more frequent and more obvious as we go through proceedings.
 If McCain’s rallying cry is “bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran”, then Palin’s is now “drill, drill, drill”.
 sock it to her, Biden. He gives a clear, sensible and 21st century answer to climate change.
 Appalling answer by Palin on climate change. Fascinating. This one will be played and played on youtube. You sense she doesn’t have a clue; or rather ties herself up in knots trying to disguise her lack of belief in gloal warming and man’s contribution to it. She just repeats the word “climate change” several times each sentence and that’s about it.
 Nate, and then some on twitter, are noting how Palin’s answers seem very scripted and over-coached, speaking too quickly and giving pat answers at points.
 “Energy is my own area of expertise” says Palin. Tries to position herself as the friend of taxpayers versus the oil producers and energy companies. She did impose a windfall profits tax, so it can be done – note to Brown and the Government here. Biden then hits back and tries to drive a wedge between McCain and Palin on that policy.
 Great and clear explanation by Biden of government finances and where things need to be squeezed or changed or not happen (ie tax cuts to wealthy people).
 Biden gets the first big laugh line, making fun of the “ultimate bridge to nowhere”.
 Palin suggests that no one should be pleased with the way the State is running things at the moment. But its not the State, its the market that has been failing so badly these past few weeks. The State is the one that has to come in and pick up the pieces, and is the only one to be trusted to run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac etc.
 Palin goes off on one, doing some “straight-talking” as she puts it. It is interesting that when she was first picked, we all thought she was picked as a ‘gap-filler’ rather than a ‘reinforcer’ – ie. she was different than McCain and trying to hit some electoral spots that McCain didn’t. But actually it is turning out that she is playing that ’reinforcing role’ – stressing and doubling McCain’s maverickness and straight-talking.
 Following things on the special twitter feed, like last time. The Fix says that both candidates are getting in their hits early. And plenty of chit-chat and yelps of joy from people playing Palin bingo, as “hockey mums” gets its first mention of the night.
 “team of mavericks” – that’s not on my bingo card but it should have been. It’s one of her favourite lines. Its her strongest strategy: to stress her non-insider and ordinary ‘joe’ status.
 I like it: Biden spends a minute talking about bipartisanship and then attacks McCain. It made sense, but brings a wry smile to my face.
 Palin starts off with a folksy anecdote, much as had been predicted on blogs and by past performance in Alaskan debates.
 “Can I call you Joe?” asks Palin, trying to get ahead early by showing her down-to-earth manner. Also sugests they have never met before.
 And we’re off. Gwen Ifill is the moderator.
 Another reason to stay up and follow this: Palin bingo. I’ve got my card and am playing. Even if you watch the debate online sometime later, download the card(s) and see if you are a winner during the debate.
 It’s time for such fun and fireworks hopefully. Joe Biden versus Sarah Palin. One time only.
So I am trying something new. Liveblogging a big speech on my own site rather than www.labourhome.org or elsewhere.
Another new thing is following proceedings and people’s reactions via twitter. http://election.twitter.com/ for the live feed. Twitter s something I first started seeing in good use at the Big Tent and enjoying things so far, even if some very silly comments and dross amidst the good stuff.
I like this twist on the debate drinking game: donating money to Democrat candidates or Obama on mention of key words rather than downing a drink. Maybe it appeals more as its almost 2am and I had my fill of alcohol earlier in the week at Labour Conference.
I’m watching / listening to the debate via CNN, but as well as the twitter feed (which is scrolling too fast for comfort there’s so much traffic on it) am keeping an eye on 538′s fab blog for analysis. They’ve just got a shout out from CNN so they’re chuffed about that.
We’re underway … with the rules. Now I am excited and nervous. Jim Lehrer sounds strict and no nonsense kind of guy as the moderator.
Obama kicks off. Forget how thin he looks on TV. A bit “programmed” is how one person on twitter sees his opening 2min speech and have to agree. Not quite engaging with me.
McCain sounding old and sombre and croaky. And not uptodate, as Senator Kennedy out of hospital a short while ago yet McCain said he was still there.
McCain mentions the Normandy invasion. It makes me think he might have actually been there. And reminds me of his age. But he does a good bit on accountability and corporate greed. Obama’s tack is try to connect today’s problems with failings over last 8 years – ie Bush and Republican mistakes.
Some back and forth on earmarks. McCain trying to stick it to Obama. Its a fine balancing act, and I’m surprised there’s been no mention of Palin and bridges to nowhere. Perhaps the water is so muddy there in terms of who is telling the truth and what is spin that Obama doesn’t want to go into it.
This tax and earmarks and regulation thing has got a bit boring. Obama seems to be over-complicating things. McCain better at soundbites and buzz words in this section and going on offensive. O is hitting back a bit on oil company tax breaks though.
Plenty of comments on twitter and 538 about eye contact and McCain not looking very much at Obama, even when speaking directly to him.
McCain just painted Obama as “that far to the left” and the most liberal current Senator. That’s patently ridiculous to sentient people, but is a line that they believe must work.
This for Nate on 538: “McCain, calling out ethanol subsidies as a bad thing, would seem (correctly) to have recognized that he’s lost Iowa.” My watching of West Wing lead to my the same conclusion when I heard McCain’s comments. I happen to agree with McCain on this issue, especialy given the effect of grain prices in the developing world partly thanks to so much land being given over to bio-fuel production.
“If we are going to be strong at home as well as abroad” – I like that Obama line and it allows a good narrative on shifting priorities and spending to domestic, progressive matters whilst reminding listeners of the follies of Bush’s foreign policy.
This is so much better already than the last of the Obama-Clinton primary debates. The format of 2 min intros answering a specific question followed by 5mins of freer to-and-fro is generally working and the moderator has to be given a lot of that credit.
McCain did a good spiel about his maverick status, rolling out a list of where he has disagreed with his party and with Bush. And referred to Palin as a fellow maverick too.
Finally after 40mins we are on to foreign policy: the original theme of this debate. Lessons from Iraq is the question. McCain pushing the successes of Petraues and the surge. Obama’s answer – on why the war was wrong in the first place and the “we took our eye off the ball” and ignored Afghanistan argument – is almost word for word what he said during the primaries. Full marks for consistency. And it resonates strongly now because of waste of money in Iraq versus cash-strapped US economy.
Both candidates speaking quite flatly. Though McCain now getting more animated and tone modulating in talking about Iraq. You can tell he really believes in the surge success. He’s trying to really hit Obama, but coming across to me a bit petty or snarky in his attacks. But it has got Obama more animated and strong in tone now too.
Someone on twitter just asked “are they running for president of Iraq?” Fair point, in that the last few mins have focused on the running of Iraq more than the running of US. Does go to show how America is still the imperial power in Iraq – not exactly a people running themselves on their own there.
Gordon Brown would be proud of the seriousness of this debate: its tone and in-depth policy discussions and general lack of histrionics or pyrotechnics. Doesn’t make for quite as gripping viewing though. It can do though. Or it did in the West Wing live presidential debate in series 7. I can’t work out what the missing ingredient is here. Or rather why this isn’t quite what we were expecting. Maybe it is McCain’s overall flat, slow delivery. Maybe it is Obama playing safe and not counter-punching enough.
The temperature’s just gone up. We are onto Iran. And McCain is raising the prospect of a second holocaust and generally trying to scare people by talking up Iran’s threat. Obama a little more circumspect and uses the d word – diplomacy.
McCain is really going for the Bush tactics of fear. And trying for the Jewish / Zionist vote in his repeat references to the threats to Israel. McCain brings out another axis of evil, this time with the right’s favourite bogeyman Chavez on the list. Obama gives a very good, straight response explaining his diplomatic strategy and that he is prepared to try these things and will do what he thinks right and necessary, rather than an ideological and irrational zero-contact policy that McCain proposes.
Let’s lighten the mood a bit with a little diversion. Just seen this on Twitter feed: Sarah Palin nicknames: ”Bible Spice” and “Caribou Barbie”. I have mixed feelings. Funny and clever yes. But a bit condensending of women in politics too.
McCain trys to curry favour by saying “my friend, Kissinger.” Can I try that same trick and say “my relative, Kissinger”? Am I automatically a better voice on foreign policy because of that association?
We’re on to Russia now. This wasn’t on the radar in the primaries so an interesting test for both candidates, and also a chance to win over some people who will hear their perspective on Russia for the first time. McCain lists lots of Russian names and places, to emphasise his experience and knowledge in this area. Or just to try redeeming himself after struggling with pronouncing the Iranian President’s name earlier. Obama on the other hand neatly turns the question into one on energy and looking to the future and alternative sources of energy, where is is stronger.
Just had a quick look at the headlines on DailyKos. Georgia10 has some excellent anaysis: ”we’ve seen that the debate styles, not surprisingly, reflect the campaign styles of these two candidates. Barack Obama is occasionally delivering elegant, understated smackdowns (his response to the McCain’s corporate tax rate claim was brilliant). McCain, on the other hand, is jabbing erratically, trying to squeeze in a hit here or there, but is largely missing his mark.” That’s very well observed and succintly put. Will anyone come up with a better account of tonight?
Final question on “are we safer now, or could there be another 9/11?” McCain takes it back to Iraq and tries to have a go at his opponent; where as Obama opens it up to Alqaida globally and then takes it back to domestic concerns. That very much has been a common theme tonight.
And that’s all for the contributions of the two candidates. Now it is over to their surrogates and supporters to make the all-important interventions that will determine exactly how the media reports on tonight’s debate. You don’t get anything on this scale or organisation after the leader’s speech at party conference.
The main talking point seems to be “presidential” versus “political”. McCain campaign’s official statement says McCain was the former, Obama the latter. Very few of the bloggers, tweets or commentators I’ve read so far seem to agree with that. The opposite was much more evident. Especially as Obama made far fewer partisan comments (except maybe on Bush’s role in economic and foreign policy failings) and jibes; instead often given the more statesmanlike and considered answers.
Kos makes a good point about the quality of the moderation of this debate. I’ve referred to that already, but agree with him its worth congratulating Jim Lehrer on his efforts tonight. Let’s hope for more of the same in terms of the quality of the moderation.
According to pro-Obama bloggers, here is his best moment of the night:
“So John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the “surge,” the war started in 2003. At the time, when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said you knew where the weapons of mass destruction were — and you were wrong. You said we were going to be greeted as liberators — you were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shi’a and Sunni, and you were wrong. …if the question is, who is best equipped as the next president to make good decisions about how we use our military, how we make sure we are prepared and ready for the next conflict, then I think we can take a look at our judgment.”
Before I end this political fest and go to sleep, it is worth acknowledging a point made in various other places. This was quite a heavy-going, wonky debate. How many people actually really paid attention to it and stayed with it? How much will it change the race; or were people bored and switched off? McCain needed to make a bit of headway, so it matters most to him if this is seen by undecideds and the non-politically obsessed as a bore-draw. Again the post-debate spin / coverage and who did best in the expectations games will be important. So worth following things the next few days.
Next up debate-wise (on Thursday) are the two Vice Presidential candidates. Palin is still doing her invisbility act, where as Biden is revelling in his ‘surrogate’ role tonight. Wll be fascinating to see what happens at that debate.
Thanks Nate and Sean for your insights. And all those twittering. That’s all folks until the next time.