Hello internet! Nick and I are back with another liveblog — sadly, it's likely our last until election day. Tonight's key questions:
(1) Does McCain raise Ayers? If so, does he find a way to do it without crippling his reformer image and without making it appear he lacks the necessary focus on the economy?
(2) Will moderator Bob Schieffer ask John McCain about a report that broke this afternoon detailing cell phone towers the McCains had installed at their ranch (free of cost) by telecom companies under McCain's jurisdiction on the Senate Commerce Committee?
(3) Will the Dodgers or the Phillies prevail in sunny Los Angeles? Current score: Phillies 1, Dodgers 0.
Ichabod Crane Cole Hamels is on the hill for Philadelphia.
Here we go...
8:58: Chris Matthews, wearing a sweater, is talking about how the candidates can persuade male voters by appealing to men's need to provide for their wives and children. He admits that this is an old-fashioned view of the American family.
9:04: McCain says Americans are hurt and angry. And they want this country to go in a new direction. I think he has to go stronger. I think he needs to break with the last eight years of Republican leadership cleanly and clearly. He adds that the catalyst of the economic crisis was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
9:06: Obama recites the new economic policies he unveiled Monday. You can see them here.
9:08: John McCain somehow knows Barack Obama's plumber friend named Joe, who wants to run a small business. He actually calls the guy "Joe the plumber."
9:10: Now Obama calls this guy "Joe the plumber." Officially the most famous pipe cleaner in America.
9:11: Obama is going over his tax plan. If you don't know Senator Obama wants a tax cuts for 95% of Americans, you haven't been paying attention. He says that all the time.
9:12: Third mention of "Joe the plumber."
9:13: Fourth and fifth mention. I say whoever Joe the plumber supports wins the White House. Somebody get this guy on the record!
9:14: Schieffer buys into the idea that when the economy is hurting and the nation is running oversized deficits, we have to stop spending. Obama, who must know deficit spending can be good for America, plays along. After 30 or 45 seconds of talking about cutting or trimming programs, Obama does get around to "investments," which is the nicest possible way to say sometimes spending is necessary.
9:17: It's shocking how much of an advantage it is for McCain to be sitting down. The difference between how the two men look is much less noticeable.
9:20: Obama points out that for all of McCain's emphasis on cutting spending, he voted for four of five Bush budgets.
9:20: "I'm not President Bush," responds McCain. "If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." Great line! Why didn't he say that two debates ago?
9:22: McCain again points to two taxpayers groups that can vouch for his record, without mentioning that the groups are linked to his campaign.
9:25: False equivalency alert! Schieffer says the campaign has gotten nasty and places the blame on both candidates equally. As if Obama has said anything as dirty as McCain's claim that Obama would rather win the White House than win the Iraq War, and his claim that Obama is palling around with terrorists. McCain also claims that all of the negativity in the race could have been avoided if Obama had agreed to the proposed town hall. Can someone — anyone — explain the cause and effect at work there?
9:27: In response to the question about going negative, McCain goes negative.
9:28: Obama says we should focus on the issues. Which is, in fact, the correct answer to this question.
9:30: Joe the plumber is back. Joe the plumber will never leave us.
9:33: Obama goes into specifics about what attendees at McCain-Palin rallies are saying about him. McCain says he's proud of the people that show up to his rallies, and that he won't stand for military wives and veterans who attend his rallies being slandered. If you think Obama actually implicated those people in anything, you probably live on a different planet.
9:35: McCain says that Obama is connected to ACORN, which is looking to perpetrate voter fraud so grand it may "destroy the fabric of democracy." They are literally worse than the Nazis. They kill kittens. They kill your kittens. (Here's an explanation of that situation, by the way.)
9:38: This is the least issues-heavy debate of the general election. This is reminiscent of some of the Clinton-Obama smackdowns. The McCain candidacy, in this debate at least, is little more than a massive attempt at character assassination. Maybe it'll turn around in the second half.
9:42: Note the subtle difference between Kerry and Obama's tax rhetoric. Kerry talked about the "richest Americans" as the villains. Obama talks about the "wealthiest corporations" as the villains. Much more politically palatable.
9:45: I think the friendship between John McCain and Joe Biden is officially over. He called Biden's partition plan "cockamamie."
9:47: I disagree with John McCain. I think we should build 45 nuclear pants, not plants. Also, Barack Obama is good at staring calmly at his opponent when not speaking. He has an excellent poker face. John McCain? Not so good. Can you imagine John McCain grinning madly over the table at Vladimir Putin?
9:50: Maybe the left should start taking Obama at his word about energy. He's repeatedly said that it's his number one priority, yet most of the left assumes that the first thing he'll do when entering office is ending the war in Iraq or fixing health care or creating jobs. (Note: Addressing energy may create jobs through a green jobs initiative. I recognize this.)
9:53: McCain takes a question about trade (specifically about the Columbia free trade agreement) and hinges his argument on the fact that Obama hasn't visited Latin American countries. That's a losing approach, I suspect.
9:54: John McCain says he'll balance the budget in four years. Jonathan Cohn says he's "aware of no credible economic analyst who believes that's possible, given the enormous tax breaks McCain has promised." Just so you know.
9:58: Schieffer ushers us onto health care. Am I crazy or has the bailout made Obama's plans for health infinitely more complicated? Congressional Republicans have an easy opportunity, rightly or wrongly, to oppose an initiative as bold as universal health care by saying, "We just don't have the money!"
10:00: Mr. Purple on the Economist's live-blog says "NBC's coverage has a split-screen feature, so you can see each candidate observing the other. It's telling: when Mr McCain speaks, Mr Obama leans toward him, looks at him calmly, sometimes smiles or shakes his head, takes a few notes. When the situation is reversed, Mr McCain rolls his eyes, smirks, bounces his head here and there. It's like watching a high-schooler make faces behind his teacher's back."
10:01: Joe the plumber Joe the plumber Joe the plumber Joe the plumber Joe the plumber Joe the plumber Joe the plumber Joe the plumber Joe the plumber.
10:05: Do you think Sen. McCain's advisers told him to speak directly to the American people, and McCain thought they said he should talk directly to an American person? Thus the to-the-camera addressing of JTP?
10:09: No mention of cell phone towers so far. Phillies leading 5-0. They are clearly going to the World Series. Excited about a Philadelphia-Tampa Bay championship?
10:15: Turns out, the plumbers were the first union to endorse Obama.
On January 9, 2008, the United Association became the first International Union to endorse Senator Barack Obama as its candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. This endorsement was discussed with the General Executive Board and they concurred.
Barack Obama is the choice of the UA because he has always fought for working people throughout his career and will do the best job of bringing badly-needed change to Washington. Obama will help us keep existing jobs and work to develop new, higher paying jobs here in America, reform our health care system, fix our ailing schools and make sure that the pensions of our retirees are safe.
10:17: We're actually talking about college affordability, education, etc. — the uncommitted Ohio voters whose opinion CNN tracks are loving this stuff.
10:18: Whoops. Apparently they only loved it when Obama was talking about it. McCain called education the "greatest civil rights challenge of our time" and their tracking lines dropped. Even though he's kinda right.
10:22: So I googled "Joe the plumber" — which, if there is any justice in the world, will be America's favorite catch phrase for the rest of the election — and this is the first site that came up. That dude's business is going to go through the roof. "Joe the plumber" is the new "lockbox." It should be all over the next episode of SNL.
10:27: Vouchers. And so forth.
10:29: Closing statements and so forth. (First and only mention of "country first"?)
10:35: Post-debate observations. CNN has decided to put everyone in its employ on set. Even the cafeteria staff is going to get a laptop and some airtime. They literally said, "We're going to take this thing to the extreme and no one can stop us!"
11:00: Snap poll from CBS. Survey of about 500 uncommitted voters: 53 percent said Obama won, 22 percent said McCain. Of uncommitted voters 28 percent said they are now committed to Obama. Fourteen percent of uncommitteds went to McCain. More people say McCain will keep taxes down, but more say Obama will make the right decisions on health care.
CNN concurs: 58 percent say Obama won, 31 percent say McCain. Who attacked more? McCain 80 percent, Obama 7 percent.
11:03: David Gergen on CNN says that a general consensus that Obama went 3-for-3 is beginning to settle in.