Last night was John McCain's best debate performance. He had a good line about why he is not President Bush, and also managed to give a plumber from Ohio his 15 minutes of fame. McCain, in my estimation, "won" the debate -- yet he still did not do enough to change the trajectory of the campaign.
McCain started off very strong, putting Obama on defense for much of the first half of the debate. But having backed Obama into the corner, McCain consistently failed to deliver a death blow. On at least two instances (John Lewis and Bill Ayers), McCain allowed Obama to escape what might have been "game-changing" events, unscathed.
Obama's method of escape, of course, is to argue that whatever McCain wants to talk about at a given moment is unimportant and irrelevant because we should really be talking about the serious issues "that matter to the American people" (which, according to Obama, is never what McCain is talking about at a given moment).
The failure to keep the heat on Obama -- or to let a man who is on the ground get back into the fight -- was, in my estimation, McCain's greatest failing. Why didn't he force the issue? Why didn't he stop the debate until Obama repudiated Lewis? Additionally, why did McCain allow Obama to once again blithely dismiss the Bill Ayers controversy by saying he is an "educator" without reminding voters -- one more time -- that he is also an unrepentant terrorist?
In this regard, last night was like watching a football game where one team dominates, yet fails to score in the "red zone," and thus, has to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. You've got to have a political "killer instinct" to drive home your points -- and I didn't see that last night from McCain.
Obama, in my estimation, seemed aloof and smug. He is obviously trying to run out the clock. He was good, however, at looking directly at the camera and delivering lines -- especially when you compare it to McCain's often choppy syntax. Obama's only points last night came on style, not substance.
Still, I think last night was McCain's change the direction of this contest, and he seemed to let Obama up off the mat on several occasions.
If you have a theory, let me know...