Town Hall Tussle
If a packed arena with a podium at center stage is Obama's venue of choice, McCain's is the more intimate town hall where he can engage in back-and-forth bantering with attendees. It was disappointing that moderator Tom Brokaw filtered audience questions and the rules forbade give-and-take between the candidates and the undecided voters asking questions. Moreover, Brokaw frequently asked follow-up questions of his own, several of them quite wordy, further diminishing the effects of this alternative format.
These restrictions considered, both candidates interacted with the audience on a personal level, paying homage to the validity of their questions, and greeting them by their first names. Though they often dodged the question after an initial acknowledgment, it was refreshing to hear directly from voters about their issues of concern in this pivotal election. The economy was certainly top of mind, but health care, the environment, and entitlement reform also entered the fray. The final half hour of the evening centered on foreign policy.
McCain spent much of the evening making policy distinctions with his opponent, continually forcing Obama on the defensive, though the junior Illinois senator often returned with stunning counterpunches of his own, repeatedly tying McCain to President Bush and the "failed" economic policies of the past eight years. These exchanges never turned personal, and for that both candidates should be commended.
It was said that McCain needed a game changing performance on this early October evening four weeks out from Election Day given that he trails in national tracking polls and also in a number of key battleground states where the election will be won or lost. This was clearly not the case, though McCain was arguably a narrow victor when the outcome was sent to the judges otherwise known as the American people.
A moment late in the debate may indeed have stood as the clincher. McCain was asked a foreign policy-related question from a retired chief petty officer of the Navy. He greeted him warmly, saying something to the effect that he had learned a great deal from chief petty officers during his time in service, shaking his hand and offering an embrace that was warmly received. Obama's response lacked the same candor and bond. Taken together, this moment spoke to McCain's decided advantage entering the evening, and raises the stakes even further for the final presidential debate next Wednesday at Hoefstra University in NY.