11:15 - Nico Pitney: Several positive reviews for Obama. A CBS News instant poll finds:
40% of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. 22% thought John McCain won. 38% saw it as a draw.
68% of these voters think Obama would make the right decision
about the economy. 41% think McCain would.
49% of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. 55% think McCain would.
Two focus groups, one by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and another by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, both declare Obama the winner. Independents in the MediaCurves focus group "gave the debate to Obama 61-39. They also think he won every individual segment. Republicans gave the debate to McCain 90-10, Democrats to Obama 93-7."
And even Time's Mark Halperin weighs in with his grades: Obama A-, McCain B-.
Update: Even Dick Morris (!) says Obama won.
11:10 - Nico Pitney: ThinkProgress notes: "ABC's Charlie Gibson and PBS's David Brooks and Marks Shields note that McCain never looked at Obama during the debate."
10:55 - Sam Stein: The main phrases to come out of the debate may have been Obama saying John McCain is "right" on several things, or McCain calling Obama naive and unprepared, but sometimes what matters more is what is not said. And the Obama campaign hits at this with a statement from Bill Burton:
Number of times John McCain mentioned:
CHANGE: 1 time
MIDDLE CLASS: not once
10:50 - Sam Stein: The spin. Literally, one minute after the debate ends, McCain's campaign was out with a statement:
"There was one man who was presidential tonight, that man was John McCain. There was another who was political, that was Barack Obama. John McCain won this debate and controlled the dialogue throughout, whether it was the economy, taxes, spending, Iraq or Iran. There was a leadership gap, a judgment gap, and a boldness gap on display tonight, a fact Barack Obama acknowledged when he said John McCain was right at least five times. Tonight's debate showed John McCain in command of the issues and presenting a clear agenda for America's future." --Jill Hazelbaker, McCain-Palin 2008 Communications Director
The Obama campaign response:
"This was a clear victory for Barack Obama on John McCain's home turf. Senator McCain offered nothing but more of the same failed Bush policies, and Barack Obama made a forceful case for change in our economy and our foreign policy. While Senator McCain wants to keep giving huge tax cuts to corporations and said nothing about the challenges Americans are facing in their daily lives, Barack Obama will be a fierce advocate for tax cuts for the middle class, affordable health care, and a new energy economy that creates millions of jobs. While foreign policy was supposed to be John McCain's top issue, Barack Obama commanded that part of the debate with a clear call to responsibly end a misguided war in Iraq so that we can finish the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. John McCain needed a game-changer tonight, and by any measure he didn't get it," said Obama-Biden campaign manager David Plouffe.
Here's Joe Biden's post-debate spin:
10:40 - Nico Pitney: I wasn't watching closely, but a fellow reporter notes via email: "Watch CNN. They have these audience reaction graphs. It's mesmerizing. Everyone loves Obama, especially when he gets broadly thematic about America's decline because of the focus on Iraq. Only Republicans like McCain--and even then, they're lukewarm."
10:38 - Sam Stein: McCain closes the debate by tying in his service in Vietnam.
"When I came home from prison, I saw our veterans very poorly treated and it made me sad," he says. "I guarantee you, as president of the United States, I know how to heal the wounds of war."
To be frank, I'm surprised McCain didn't play the POW card more tonight, consider how frequently he and his campaign have used it earlier in the campaign.
10:36 - Sam Stein: Sure enough, Obama's repeated remarks that "McCain is right" or "I agree with McCain" go viral immediately.
There will be hand wringing after this as to whether Obama was too forgiving of McCain's record. And surely, videos like these have the ability to shape voter perception. But, on the flip side, the memorable soundbites seem, at this point, to be Obama attacks: on Spain, on Kissinger, on "bomb bomb Iran."
10:40 - Nico Pitney: Obama takes on McCain over his refusal to agree to a meeting with Spain's prime minister:
I just have to make this general point that the Bush administration, some Senator McCain's own advisors all think this is important, and Senator McCain appears resistant. He even said the other day that he would not meet potentially with the prime minister of Spain because he wasn't sure whether they were aligned with us. I mean, Spain. Spain is a NATO ally. If we can't meet with our friends, I don't know how we are going to lead the world in terms of dealing with critical issues like terrorism.
10:32 - Nico Pitney: An observer asks, "Anybody hearing a snicker from McCain while Obama is talking?
10:21 - Sam Stein: Gaffe alert: On substance, McCain claims that Pakistan was a failed state before Musharraf. It's simply not true.
On a lighter note, a Democrat sends over a clip of McCain mispronouncing the name of the Pakistani president. It's Zidari not "Kidari."
Combined with the fumble on Ahmadinejad's name, it doesn't really help McCain present himself as the one knowledgeable on foreign affairs. Then again, on multiple occasions, he has accused Obama of not understanding world affairs or being downright naive.
10:05 - Sam Stein: Obama hits home on the issue of Afghanistan by bringing up an old McCain quote that suggests he thought the war there was secondary in nature.
"No one is talking abut defeat in Iraq," says Obama, "but we are having more problems in Afghanistan because of that decision... at one point while you were focused on Iraq you said we could 'muddle through' Afghanistan. You don't muddle through the central war on terror, you don't muddle going after Osama bin Laden."
McCain, who has been belaboring the point that Obama's strategy in Iraq would have led to failure in the broader region, brings back the issue of Obama's failure to visit both countries for some time (no word if the same criticism applies to Sarah Palin).
9:59 - Sam Stein: Fox News (yes, Fox) picks up a pretty good point. For a contentious debate, Obama has ceded more points to McCain than the other way around.
"Obama has said "John is right" five times in the debate so far. Fodder for the next McCain political ad perhaps?"
9:57 - Sam Stein: The topic of whether to target al Qaeda figures in Pakistan comes up and McCain accuses Obama of being naive for saying that he would go after terrorist figures in the country even if the Pakistani government didn't say yes.
"If you are going to point a gun at somebody you better be prepared to pull a trigger," he says. "We have got to get the support of the people of Pakistan. [Obama] said we would launch military strikes into Pakistan. You don't do that you don't say that out loud. If you have to do things you have to do things."
The question naturally arises: if McCain says we are going to do it if we have to isn't he, essentially, telling Pakistan that we will target terrorists in their country."
Obama, it should be noted, defends his policy and corrects McCain for suggesting he was talking about attacking the country. He then throws in a good dig. Coming from somebody who "sings songs about bombing Iran, I don't know how credible [your call for prudence] is."
9:54 - Nico Pitney: NBC's Andy Merten notes the first Hillary Clinton reference of the night -- by John McCain, talking about their climate change work together.
9:52 - Jed Lewison: John McCain lied right out of the gate during tonight's debate, claiming that he had warned us about the financial crisis that we are now facing. But in November, 2007 he admitted that he hadn't seen the mortgage crisis -- the root of today's financial crisis -- coming.
9:50 - Sam Stein: Forty minutes into the debate, the topic shifts to Iraq and the fireworks begin to fly. Obama ties it into an economic frame.
"We have spent over 600 billion so far, soon to be a trillion," he says. "We have lost over 4,000 lives, and seen 30,000 wounded and most importantly from a security perspective, al Qadea is resurgent... we took our eye of the ball."
McCain, as expected, goes to the issue of the surge: "The next president of the U.S. will not have to address the issue of when we went into Iraq or not... they will address how to leave and when to leave and what we leave behind."
But the real drama came when the topic switched to judgment over the start of the war.
"John wants to pretend that the war started in 2007," says Obama. "The war started in 2003. At the time when the war started you said it would be quick and easy, you knew where the weapons of mass destruction were, you were wrong. You said we would be greeted as liberators, you were wrong."
McCain lambastes Obama for not understanding the difference between a tactic and a strategy and accuses his opponent of trying to cut off funds for the troops, something which, Obama rightfully notes, McCain has done himself (if, as McCain was, one is talking about authorization bills that were shot down because of timetables for withdrawal or a lack thereof).
9:46 - Nico Pitney: Some conservative criticism from Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review: "A Republican strategist told me, 'John McCain is not capable of carrying an economic message on anything other than spending.' Tonight that strategist is being proven right."
9:44 - Nico Pitney: Obama wearing a flag pin, McCain isn't.
9:41 - Sam Stein: Obama, in a conversation about spending, finally, or at least fully, ties McCain to the excesses of the Bush administration.
"It's been your president who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time, who presided over this increase in spending, this orgy of spending... and you voted for almost all of his budgets," he says.
McCain seemed a bit grated by the remark and responds by highlighting his maverick-ness.
"It is well known I have not been elected Ms. Congeniality in the Senate or with this administration... I have opposed this president on climate change, torture, Guantanamo bay, spending... the American people know me very well and that is independent and a maverick of the Senate."
How much Bush's name comes up in this debate could, in the end, be a marker for who performs better.
9:37 - Nico PItney: Whoops -- McCain's early reference to Dwight Eisenhower writing a letter offering his resign isn't accurate, according to Brian Williams.
9:34 - Nico PItney: Obama's campaign is fact-checking the debate here. McCain camp is emailing out fact-checks, without links.
9:31 - Sam Stein: McCain, in a question about what he would give up from his agenda because of the bailout, goes, somewhat randomly, at the contested National Journal rankings showing Obama having the most liberal voting record.
"Sen. Obama has the most liberal voting record in the US Senate," he says. "It is hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left."
Obama responds a few minutes later.
"John mentioned my voting record. Mostly that is me just opposing George Bush's wrongheaded policies... It is also important to note that I worked with Tom Coburn. One of the most conservative members of government." The reference is to the Google government program the two helped create, which tracks the money that Congress spends.
9:28 - Sam Stein: This debate was supposed to be based on foreign policy, but 20 minutes in, we have had discussions on earmarks, taxes, health care, the bailout, energy, oil, regulation and trade. Iraq has not come up yet.
9:14 - Sam Stein: John McCain started off the debate by attempting to take credit for the work he has done on the bailout package, despite the fact that most observers see his role as either passive or counter-productive.
"We are seeing for the first time in a long time Republicans and Democrats together sitting down, trying to work out a solution to the fiscal crisis that we are in," said McCain. "The point is we have finally seen Republicans and Democrats sitting down together and finally coming together with a package."
Obama counters with a response that is, in essence, the economic problems demanded to be addressed before they became so dire. To which McCain talked about the need for accountability even in the moment. Citing his call for firing Chris Cox of the SEC, he pivoted to a tale about how Dwight Eisenhower wrote two letters before the invasion of Normandy: one complimenting the officers for victory the other offering his resignation.
Not sure if people will relate to the World War II analogy.
7:31 PM: McCain Camp Won't Let Palin Spin:
After Barack Obama and John McCain stop talking on the debate stage Friday night, their surrogates will start spinning. But one high-profile supporter of Mr. McCain will be missing: his running mate Sarah Palin.
Spinning on behalf of the Democrats on Friday night will be Joe Biden, Mr. Obama's running mate. He is expected to appear live on NBC, CBS, and CNN immediately following the debate, representatives of those networks said on Friday.
4:22 PM: Ku Klux Klan members are planning on appearing at tonight's debate, according to the University of Mississippi newspaper.
2:15: Obama chief strategist David Axelrod rips into McCain on MSNBC:
[Axelrod] accuses the McCain camp of suspending their campaign for political gain, not to address the financical crisis.
Responds to McCain's statement on White House talks Thursday in MSNBC interview saying it's his understanding McCain said "virtually nothing," that's not a way to show leadership.
Also says, in reaction to statement, "it isn't the first time that people in Washington have declared 'Mission Accomplished' before the mission was accomplished."
2:00: Obama camp plays the expectations game. They paint Obama has a poor debater, but argue that McCain needs a homerun tonight since foreign policy is his "professed" strong suit, and because the last few days have been so rough for him. Read the full memo.
1:09 PM: National Review's Rich Lowry finds one consequence of McCain's gambit -- "everyone at Ole Miss now hates him. It will make for a very hostile audience tonight among those students and faculty attending."
12:00 PM: McCain heads to Mississippi with Rudy Giuliani and others in tow. A pool report says the atmosphere is "utter confusion."
McCain now boarding plane at DCA with Cindy, Salter, Rudy Giuliani, wife Judith, and other aides plus pool.
Heading to Memphis, 1:50 minute flight, then motorcade to site
General atmosphere is utter confusion.
Debate Flashbacks: NBC takes a look back at the last three series of presidential debates -- Clinton v. Dole, Bush v. Gore, and Bush v. Kerry:
11:24 AM - McCain Officially Going To Debate: The McCain campaign releases a statement saying that John McCain will attend tonight's debate. Here's an excerpt:
Senator McCain has spent the morning talking to members of the Administration, members of the Senate, and members of the House. He is optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that there is a framework for all parties to be represented in negotiations, including Representative Blunt as a designated negotiator for House Republicans. The McCain campaign is resuming all activities and the Senator will travel to the debate this afternoon. Following the debate, he will return to Washington to ensure that all voices and interests are represented in the final agreement, especially those of taxpayers and homeowners.
11:00 AM - McCain's Already Won The Debate? That's what his website says.
10:45 AM - Decision By Noon? Newsweek's Tammy Haddad: "Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, tells Tam Cam at the Memphis Airport that he will know by noon if the first presidential debate will take place. If McCain does not come by law there will be no debate because it is an 'illegal contribution.' When asked what the absolutely drop dead time is he replied, 'the final sweep by 5pm.'"
10:00 AM - Report: Obama Getting On Plane To Mississippi: Fox News reports that Barack Obama plans to board an 11AM ET plan to the site of tonight's planned debate in Oxford, Mississippi.
9:30 AM - Huckabee Says McCain Making A Mistake: McCain's primary challenger says his former rival made a "huge mistake" by even considering skipping the debate.
Huckabee said he still backs McCain's candidacy, but said the Arizona senator should not have put his campaign on hold to deal with the financial crisis on Wall Street. He said a president must be prepared to "deal with the unexpected."
"You can't just say, 'World stop for a moment. I'm going to cancel everything,'" Huckabee said.
9:15 AM - Signs Suggest McCain Will Attend: John McCain has yet to commit to participating in Friday night's scheduled debate, tying his appearance to progress on a Wall Street bailout plan. But his campaign surrogates like Sen. Lindsay Graham appear to be lowering the bar "on what sort of agreement would satisfy McCain that sufficient progress had been made."
"What's more important than anything that when we go to Mississippi tonight, both candidates can say that the Congress is working, back in business, that we have an outline or proposal that will protect the taxpayer and save the country from financial Pearl Harbor, as Warren Buffet called it," Graham said on "Today" on NBC. "We are not there yet, but we will get there."
Debate Prospects Uncertain, But Preparations Continue: "Prospects were questionable at best that John McCain and Barack Obama would meet Friday for their first presidential debate as progress appeared to dissolve between Congress and the Bush administration on a $700 billion financial industry bailout," the AP reported late Thursday.
McCain didn't plan to participate in the debate unless there was a consensus. Obama still wants the face-off to go on and was scheduled to travel to the debate site in Oxford, Miss., on Friday.
"I believe that it's very possible that we can get an agreement in time for me to fly to Mississippi," McCain said late Thursday. "I understand how important this debate is and I'm very hopeful. But I also have to put the country first."
In turn, Obama said: "Obviously the biggest priority is making sure that we get this deal done. But I also think it's important to describe to the American people where the next president wants to take the country and how he's going to deal with this crisis." [...]
In Mississippi, debate organizers continued to prepare, and Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, told a news conference he expected the debate to go on. "This is going to be a great debate tomorrow night," Barbour said.
The Washington Post reported that debate planners were moving forward:
Ignoring the proposal from Sen. John McCain that Friday's scheduled presidential debate be postponed, the independent Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday that it is "moving forward with its plan for the first presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford... The plans for this forum have been underway for more than a year and a half. The CPD's mission is to provide a forum in which the American public has an opportunity to hear the leading candidates for the president of the United States debate the critical issues facing the nation. We believe the public will be well served by having all of the debates go forward as scheduled."
McCain proposed Wednesday that the debate be postponed until a deal is struck in Washington on a financial bailout plan. Sen. Barack Obama rejected the idea, saying the crisis made the debate more useful and timely.
Janet Brown, executive director of the commission, flew from Washington to Oxford late Thursday.
Diverse Web Coalition Wants McCain, Obama To Alter Debates: "An informal national coalition of internet pioneers and users with widely divergent political views will issue a letter Friday morning calling on John McCain and Barack Obama to open the remaining debates completely to the public domain," the LA Times reports.