Pundits Can't Agree On Winner Of Debate

NEW YORK (AP) -- It was hard to tell if there were more disagreements voiced during the presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama or after it on television.

The networks' pundits moved quickly Friday to put into perspective a debate seen by tens of millions of Americans, although a clear winner didn't emerge. It was a reflection of cautiousness, the closeness of the race and the influence of furious spinning by both campaigns.

"There was no knockout, and maybe no knockdown, but McCain was on the offensive throughout," commentator William Kristol said on Fox News Channel.

His fellow panelist, Juan Williams, quickly retorted, "I thought Barack Obama put John McCain on the defensive all night."

David Gergen, CNN analyst, said, "McCain needed a clear victory tonight and I think that eluded him."

Said Fox's Chris Wallace, "I think the McCain campaign is very happy tonight."

And they weren't even the professional spinners, who try to buttonhole reporters backstage with opinions about as predictable as the sun rising every morning. It has become a cliche of debate nights, a room television networks know they should avoid but can't seem to help themselves.

Another useless TV trick: those meters that can be twisted up or down to show how a voter is responding to a particular passage. Mostly, they looked indecipherable.

Obama's campaign put forward vice presidential candidate Joe Biden for post-debate interviews, and he appeared on all the news networks. His Republican counterpart, Sarah Palin, was nowhere in sight.

Several commentators noted how Obama said at a number of points that McCain was right about something, which could either be construed as a sign of weakness or one in which he was willing to lead in a bipartisan manner. McCain pounded home the point that there were several things his opponent didn't understand about the world.

"McCain very often seemed like he was condescending, seeming like he was lecturing Barack Obama," CNN's Gloria Borger said.

The first debate, which was supposed to be centered on foreign policy, concerned the economy for about 40 minutes. Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBC kept his questions simple to get the men talking. He even tried to push the candidates to address each other instead of the camera, a request that had some success as more heated foreign policy exchanges came.

Snapshot polls by both CNN and CBS News showed Obama with a clear advantage among voters in how people perceived the debate performance. CBS monitored a roomful of uncommitted voters and when asked who won the debate shortly after it was done, the number of people who raised their hands for Obama was more than double than those for McCain.

Consensus for either side will undoubtedly harden as the debate quickly gets reduced to sound bites and Youtube clips.

"Is the race now different than it was at 9 p.m. eastern time?" asked ABC commentator George Will. "The answer I think is no. This wasn't a game changer. Both had their familiar personas. Barack Obama was the rather tweedy professor conducting a national seminar. John McCain was a rather hotter personality, the national scold."

Pundits didn't need a calendar to start anticipating the next debate, between Biden and Palin. It's scheduled for Oct. 2.

Television networks will find out in a few days whether the McCain-Obama debate could claim the ultimate record of most-watched presidential debate ever.

The standard was set in 1980, when 80.6 million people watched that campaign's only debate between President Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. TV audiences that big typically gather only once a year, for the Super Bowl.

The most-watched debate since 1980 was the second of three between the first President Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992, seen by just under 70 million people. The first debate in 2004 between President Bush and John Kerry was seen by 62.5 million, Nielsen Media Research said.

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  • by VBush Location: MHCY on Sep 28, 2008 at 05:11 AM
    Neither candidate made a strong showing in my opinion. I am a McCain supporter and I surely do not think he won the debate. Nor do I think Obama won. McCain was weak on articulating his points as usual...he is not a good public speaker. Obama sounded good, but as usual if you listened to exactly what he said, he was not definitive on anything. He made his usual broad answers without really making any type of point or statement that he could not weasel out of should he be elected later on down the line. In my opinion, Obama sounded good and looked good doing it, but didn't really say much except the usual Liberal Democratic mantra of 'we will take care of the little guy'. McCain probably could have made some great points, but bumbled getting his message out in a clear concise manner that is easy to understand for the average person on the street that doesn't follow politics closely enough to know what he is referring to. The debate was a draw which will be good for Obama in the polls.
  • by Anonymous on Sep 27, 2008 at 05:37 PM
    I think Obama kept his composure and obviously had been brushing up on foreign policy/current events lately with alot of pre-rehearsed babble and big words to throw off the listeners. He still appears naive and inexperinced compared to McCain in my opinion.
  • by Devil Dog Location: New Bern on Sep 27, 2008 at 05:35 PM
    It really doesn't matter, because after this "financial disaster" is sorted out, everything will be off the board. Everyone will see tax increases one way or the other. INVESTIGATIONS have already started and I bet they will find one big PONZI SCHEME. A PONZI SCHEME is an investment swindle, in which high profits are promised from fictious sources, and early investors are paid with funds raised from later ones. This scam has been around for many years. Alot of these CONGRESS persons better keep a low profile. So much for honesty,integrity,and professionalism. POWER corrupts and ABSOLUTE power CORRUPTS absolutely!
  • by Anonymous Location: NC on Sep 27, 2008 at 05:30 PM
    Really?!? Do you honestly believe that Sarah Palin will completely destroy Joe Biden? Think about it for a second. She cannot even handle herself in an interview, let alone a debate. I can't wait to see this debate.
  • by Mr. Bob on Sep 27, 2008 at 04:32 PM
    McCain won the debate.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Sep 27, 2008 at 12:58 PM
    I don't think that acknowledging that one is right is a sign of weakness, but rather a willingness to acknowledge the truth. To me, that is critical. Some people are so proud and arrogant that they feel that they must always be right and that no one else has good opinions. Of course, you cannot always slight your perspective because that would be constructed as lacking self-confidence; however, Obama did not claim that he was wrong, but rather admitted that his views and McCain's views were analogous on those particular terms.
  • by Ron Location: Merritt on Sep 27, 2008 at 11:22 AM
    It's easy to see where WITN's sympathies lie. Try as you will, you will never convince the American voter that the bumbling Obama won that debate!! The liberal pundits lied when they said Obama won, but the conservative pundits were telling the truth when they said McCain won. I can't wait until Sarah Palin completely destroys Biden during their debate!!
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