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The Smirk: Could McCain's Facial Gestures Define Debate?

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As the spin of Friday night's debate settled in and both sides staked a claim to victory, one media narrative began to take hold: while Obama may have been over-complimentary of McCain, the GOP nominee was grumpy, mean, and downright contemptuous of Obama, much to his detriment.

A clip circulated by Democrats showed the McCain demonstrating all of those traits: smirking when Obama gave his answers, eyes blinking, unwilling to even look at his opponent.

It was a small visual, but one that seemed to be getting traction among the punditry. Charlie Gibson on ABC and David Brooks on PBS both noted that McCain didn't look at Obama once. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote that McCain sounded "angry and passionate"; MSNBC's Chris Matthews described the GOP nominee as "troll-like" and "grouchy."

The episode was reminiscent, to some extent, of Al Gore's sighs during the 2000 debate with George W. Bush. But more than that, it seemed to be a counterbalance to the first takeaway from the debate: mainly, that Obama had agreed too much and been too deferential to his opponent.

GOP aides giddily highlighted the several instances where Obama said he agreed with McCain. But Democrats warned that the move would backfire: while Obama appeared like a statesman, noting both when they agreed and disagreed, McCain refused to even look Obama in the eye.

Certainly the immediate, post-debate focus polls suggested that voters had soured on the Republican nominee's performance. And both in private and in public, aides to Obama thought that the tics and smirks could resonate.

"The scowls and the squints and the facial tics of John McCain didn't serve him well here," said advisor Robert Gibbs, in the spin room.

UPDATE: Here's another video compiling McCain's angriest moments during the debate: