No he can't. Sen. Barack Obama probably won't "win" the first presidential debate, no matter when it occurs.
Obama is not an expert debater, and if Sen. John McCain's attempt to skip the first debate does nothing else, it suggests that this is Obama's turf. While McCain has risked appearing like he is afraid to spar during a crisis, which seems bad, his actions also signal to voters that Obama must be a tough debating foe. McCain has widened the spread -- against a mediocre debater.
Few deny that Obama is brilliant and inspiring. He is eloquent in big speeches and thoughtful in interviews. His presidential debate performances, however, are lackluster. This was my take on Obama during a Democratic debate in November, during a key stretch of the run-up to Iowa:
Given Obama's sluggish[ness] it's striking to see that he actually spoke more than any other candidate (18 minutes). This was the kind of performance that might give a campaign manager heartburn: a speaker who sounds worse in a small field, when the audience hears extended remarks.
Turn to Obama supporters, and the assessments are even more biting. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, who often runs his blog as a shadow Obama war room, lamented how Obama can deterioirate before your eyes in debates. From April:
It was a lifeless, exhausted, drained and dreary Obama we saw tonight. I've seen it before when he is tired, but this was his worst performance yet on national television. He seemed crushed and unable to react. This is big-time politics... [b]ut there is no disguising the fact that he wilted, painfully.
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