A few thoughts on tonight’s debate

Having ruminated while cleaning up the dinner dishes and folding the laundry (yes, ladies and germs, this is one multitasking journalist you’re dealing with), I’ve gotta say it didn’t look so hot for John McCain tonight.

No, there were no major gaffes, but as he lags in the polls he needed something more than that. I was watching the debate on CNN, which had this nifty little graph scrolling across the bottom of the screen measuring reactions from undecided voters in Ohio. It seemed as if every time McCain went on the offensive about Barack Obama‘s record (or the lack thereof, McCain might say), that line took a dive, coming back up somewhat when McCain would turn back to his own platform.

So apparently the Ohio undecideds don’t like Angry McCain — and that’s a warning shot across the bow of a campaign which has decided to “turn the page” from discussion of the struggling economy (on which McCain has been taking a beating) toward stepping up attacks on Obama’s character and history.

I also noticed that the lines went higher for Obama than for McCain when they were discussing Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though foreign policy and homeland security are supposed to be McCain’s comfort zone. And all this in a town-hall debate format that McCain supposedly relishes.

I thought Obama was right to pounce on McCain’s “talk softly but carry a big stick” rhetoric, as that clearly hasn’t been McCain’s own philosophy. And if you want “straight talk” on the candidates’ tax policy, listen to what the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has to say about it.

Finally, as a personal aside, I believe when someone calls a crowd “my friends” once or twice, it seems folksy; when you do it six or seven times, it starts sounding smarmy. But, hey, that’s just me.

On the whole, both candidates seemed composed and competent, and at least neither of them flatly refused to respond to some of the moderator’s questions, even though both kept pushing past the moderator’s exhortations to honor the time limits, perhaps Obama moreso.

But still, I think: advantage Obama.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.