Right on time--Lehrer starts things at 6pm straight up.
6:03 - Q about the financial crisis. Obama, looking straight into the camera. Standard response about the plan, the elements he wants. Pivots to a shot at McCain being part of the cause. Trying to irritate McCain right off the bat!
McCain, crocodile tears about Kennedy. Pivots to crocodile tears about homeowners. He's looking around the room, not just into the camera, like Obama. Sticks to talking points.
6:08 - Five minute open period. Obama jumps first. Looking presidential. Now talking to Lehrer. Shot at deregulators.
McCain jumps in, claims to have warned about the "train wreck coming." Hmmm. Heart not in that, he plays an old Ike talking point he's repeated 16,000 times. Sort of loses the thread trying to link Normandy up to financial crisis.
6:12 - Lehrer tries to get Obama to talk to McCain, he does, both handle it nicely. Obama repeats himself, starting it with "John..." McCain says, "what, did you think I couldn't hear him, Jim?"
6:13 - Man, I'm nervous.
6:15 - I have secured a beer. McCain rattles on about spending. "I've got a pen"--holds it up, looks surprised. "It's kind of old." What the hell?
6:16 - Obama says earmarks are just $18 billion a year, talks about larger structural problems. Good point. Split screen; McCain smirking for reasons only he knows. Perhaps he's thinking about that old pen.
6:18 - McCain goes on about earmarks. Looks a wee bit unhinged, but tries to tag Obama with only suspending his requests when he ran for President. Obama interrupts McCain, who continues with the amused smirk. Could be that we're in the weeds with tax policy, so I wonder how people are reading McCain's apparent amusement and dismissal of the lightweight to his left. Obama responds, and McCain is really grinning here.
6:24 - Uh oh, Obama's irritated now. Tries to interject dismissively. Looks bad.
6:25 - Now McCain responds. Also looks bad. Obama has rallied.
6:29 - Question is what they'd cut to pay for bailout. Obama elides the question, talks about what we need. McCain does the same. Lehrer notices; they still dodge him.
6:32 - McCain goes off the reservation: suggests a spending freeze. I don't think his advisors suggest that. Obama: what we need is a scalpel, not a hatchet. Talks about getting out of Iraq to save money. McCain plays the same notes: nukes and drilling. Wha ... ?
6:35 - Obama does look like he's engaging the questions and is transparent. McCain looks like a windup doll--pull the string and listen to the soundbite. Obama gives a nuanced description of budgeting, and McCain barks back some BS about government healthcare. Wha ... ?
6:38 - Obama really hammers McCain on being a stooge for Bush. McCain repeats a "miss congeniality" line, doesn't look at Obama, and it looks, well, pathetic. My confidence rallies. It's not the beer.
6:43 - Iraq. McCain is talking about the surge, Obama about the decision to invade. Shocking! Obama gives credit to the surge--overtly. Interesting. Then tags him pretty hard on the difference between tactics and strategy. Now going through all McCain's misjudgments about Iraq. He's stepping up.
6:47 - McCain: Obama doesn't understand the difference between strategy and tactics. McCain won't look at Obama. Won't do it. Obama constantly looks at, and tries to engage, McCain.
6:50 - As Obama and McCain trade on the subtle points of Iraq, McCain loses. Obama doesn't have to be right so much as look McCain's equal. He does--and I think this point will ultimately be borne out in polls. Palin's failure now stands as an example of how the unprepared can't fake it. Obama's not faking it--he's in command of his argument and the facts.
6:57 - Okay, I zoned out there for awhile why McCain was talking. Miss anything? Okay, Obama just mentioned McCain's famous "bomb bomb Iran" song and called him not credible. that'll wake you up.
6:59 - McCain peeved about the "bomb Iran" comment. Now talks a huge long list of things he did back in the middle-20th century that no one cares about. Moral he's attempting to send: I'm experienced. Actual moral: I'm old and rambling.
7:03 - New question! Iran. I awake.
7:06 - It occurs to me at times like this (when McCain is talking) that this debate will be condensed to three minutes of clips. Which will they show? Obama has few weak moments--and no blunders--thus far.
7:08 - Obama continues to shine as a person of substance in foreign relations. McCain cowers behind boilerplate and piquish spleen. It's not the end of the world, but Obama looks like the guy who is really in command. He has the cojones to stray from boilerplate. I'm as compromised as hell, but he's really looking good.
7:09 - McCain can't pronounce Ahmadinejad. Not a problem; no one else can, either. (I'm a dinner jacket, I'm a dinner jacket, I'madinna ... jad.)
7:12 - Ouch! Obama tags McCain on his (inadvertent) refusal to meet the President of Spain. McCain seethes, takes a shot about Obama's seal.
7:19 - Did McCain just say that Obama's naive because he doesn't understand that Russia invaded Georgia? I was in the other room.
7:24 - Obama talks about oil in his response about Georgia. Good point, but a bit dry.
7:30 - They finish on their central points. Obama's talking about terror and Afghanistan, McCain about Iraq. This theme has run throughout. It's not a right/wrong issue--it's a real disagreement. We'll see who is declared the winner on that point on Nov 4.