From NBC's Chuck Todd
While there is now a mad scramble to spin who won or who lost, folks ought to step back and realize we saw one of the better "first" presidential debates in this modern era in quite some time.
Neither candidate was "off," neither candidate was nervous. Both were on message (sometimes painfully so for those of us who have now witnessed our 38th presidential debate of the cycle). In fact, the primary debate practice clearly had them both prepared tonight.
All in all, the questions I have are viewer/voter related:
1) Did a majority of folks see two presidential level candidates on stage? This is an especially important question for Obama. I suspect that only the most partisan McCain supporters wouldn't say Obama looked as presidential as McCain. In fact, McCain may have helped the audience come to that conclusion when he attempted to make the case directly that Obama wasn't ready.
2) Did McCain look like someone ready to buck the status quo? It's hard to argue that he wasn't showing himself as someone wanting to shake things up. For every time Obama attempted to link McCain to Bush, the Arizona senator had no qualms going after his own party. In fact, Obama's "John is right" mantras were usually connected to one of McCain's anti-Republican establishment points.
3) Did the viewers get turned off by McCain's sometimes dismissive treatment of Obama or will they start asking themselves the same questions? While this was a very heavy and substantive debate, I do wonder if on style, McCain lost a point or two, and that may explain why he's not staying even in some of these insta-polls.
4) Who will the voters-viewers punish for what seemed like a completely tone deaf conversation between the two candidates on the economy. Neither candidate emphasized jobs and instead allowed themselves to get bogged down on taxes and spending, two issues that don't rank nearly as high with voters as other economic issues. Bottom line on the economy: they both need work.
Still, count me impressed by both candidates. I know it may sound a bit pollyannish, but I thought one would not bring their "A" game or that one would get complacent and that didn't happen. There are some who believe a "draw" is better for the candidate perceived to be ahead. If that's the case, then the polls will continue their Obama drift. But I wouldn't be surprised if the polls don't move much in either direction because neither candidate gave a reason why voters ought to stop listening and make their decision now. There are two more debates and this one was good enough that they may see audiences build on this one.
Up next: the very intriguing and potentially entertaining VP debate.