I originally began this as a comment to Sheryl Crow's post. When I was done being so loquacious, I suddenly realized I had actually written an entire post. So, here it is.
While I agree that Obama did a better job in the debate, I feel he missed the opportunity to hit it out of the park. And with that, he runs the risk of outright losing the debate. That's because most Americans either didn't watch the debate or watched it and came away not quite sure who the winner was. Those people will formulate their decision about the winner over the next few days based on what they hear and read in the press. For them, the spin from the debate will decide the ultimate winner.
The Republican talking points after the debate were pure and simple GOP. I heard three Republican analysts on three different networks say the following within minutes of the conclusion of the debate. "You're either on offense or you're on defense. And Barack Obama was mostly on defense. He said "John McCain is right" all night long." This line of attack plays into their theme that Obama's not a leader. They posted a YouTube video on the subject. Obama disagreed with McCain a lot more than he agreed.
One pundit tried to attack Obama for referring to his colleague as "John." As if, by using his name, he was somehow talking down to McCain. If the first talking point doesn't stick, look for them to hit hard on this one which plays into their theme of Obama being "elitist." But this is what they did to Al Gore after the first Gore-Bush debate. While Gore clearly won that debate the GOP spun him to death by making him out to be petulant and "brainy" and elitist. All of the polls and pundits declared Gore the winner but two days later all anyone was talking about was how snooty Gore was.
I've yet to see a single analyst talk about Obama's biggest score of the night. They all missed it and it came at the very end of the debate when he talked about improving America's image in the world. It was flat out moving. At no point in the debate did the focus group trend line get as high as it did then and McCain's response was merely to talk more about victory in Iraq. It drew him huge negatives. He had completely missed the point.
Still, Obama could have shut the door at that point. He could have responded that McCain can't seem to talk about anything other than Iraq; that McCain can't see the big picture because his years of "experience" have narrowed his vision. He's living in the past, not the future. He doesn't represent...ready? Change! But he didn't. It would have been a big ending. Earlier he missed opportunities to hit McCain on what exactly victory in Iraq means. Instead of battling a war of names and strategy on Iraq, one that Obama can't win against the more experienced, name dropping McCain, he'd be better off to look at the future. OK, the surge worked. Now what John? When do we leave? McCain can't answer that question because he has no idea.
Obama also let McCain get away with the constant "naive" attacks. He should have straightened him out. It was a bit like Michael Dukakis letting the wife being raped question get by him, though not nearly as bad. Still, if a guy keeps insulting you, hit back. Just let's get this straight, using a guy's name is insulting and disrespectful but calling him naive and talking to him like he's a child is not?
Let's see how this plays out from the talking heads over the next few days. Or rather, let's do our part to spin this correctly.