11/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Blogging the Nashville Face Off on the Ground


If you would like to read about the lead-in to the second debate, here is a good thumbnail sketch of contemporary Nashville and a listing of events leading up to the main event.

Belmont University: 9:30 p.m.


A summary of sorts: I think which ever candidate you were favoring before the debate will be the one you support after the debate. I didn't see any major gaffe from either candidate.

Weather or no weather, people were watching in the rain. The media center (tents) are a "who's who" of the political world. Then it gets down to pols gone wild in the spin tent. Who won, of course, depends on who you're talking to.

McCain was better than he was in the first debate but it was basically a tie and in the case of a tie then Obama wins because McCain failed to make up the ground he lost in the past few weeks. If it must be a horse race then Obama keeps his lead which is important because early voting has already begun.

Belmont University: 9:00 p.m.

On Foreign Policy...

McCain: Obama was wrong on the invasion and the surge.

Obama: When McCain was cheerleading the president he was wrong.

Both of them rehashing pretty much the same stuff they said on foreign relations in the last debate.

Obama is really nuanced in his views on intervention by force for humanitarian reasons.

McCain doesn't address the question on genocide, he attacks Obama instead then goes into generalities. Recalls Lebanon decision under President Reagan (huh?). Talks about how wonderful American service people are and waves the flag for a while.

Obama: We have to change our policies on Pakistan. Afghanistan is the real front line of the war on terror. Then into a reiteration of his previous statements and positions.

McCain: My hero is Teddy Roosevelt, walk softly but carry a big stick; Obama wants to walk noisily so as to signal our intentions to our enemies. He, like Obama, goes on the reinforce his previously stated positions.

I think Tom Brokaw is doing a very good job. Both men are very intense and definitely pushing the envelope on the debate rules.

McCain: I know how to get Osama Bin Laden, I know how and I will but I won't telegraph my intentions to our enemies.

Obama: We have to get out of Iraq with as much care as their was carelessness getting in.

Auuuuugggggghhhhhhhhh!!!! It's déjà vu all over again.

In all fairness, they both have very distinct foreign policy outlooks and they both talk about things they covered in the last debate.

McCain scores points with his base and Obama presents himself as well informed and capable of dealing with foreign policy - kind of a wash.

Is Russia and evil empire? Yes, no and maybe. Both men give reasoned answers.

McCain is obviously very at ease with the town hall format but, then again, so is Obama.

Iran: Bad - Israel: Good. Tough sanctions on Iran, we cannot allow a second holocaust. Same theme from both men in their own phrasing.

Last Question:

What don't you know and how will you learn it?

Obama: My wife could give you a much longer list than I can. Its never the challenge you expect it's the one you don't that consumes most of your time. He then goes into a summation of his change message.

McCain: What I don't know is what we all don't know; what is going to happen here at home and abroad. I don't know the unexpected but I have spent my life serving this country. He goes into his summation with a side note into Vietnam. Country first, et al.

Brokaw wraps it up. Now come the talking heads.

Belmont University: 8:30 p.m.

Both men rambling through stump speech rhetoric without attacks. Both working their way through very well established talking points; so far they are both very disciplined with staying on message.

How do you break the bad habits of too much debt?

Obama: Earmarks are good but they make up a small amount of our budgets. Tax breaks for the rich is not going to do any good for the majority of Americans. He uses some nice analogies

McCain: nailing Obama's tax proposals down are like nailing jello to the wall. No concept of question, just attack Obama's tax proposals. I'm not in favor of tax breaks for the rich. I'm looking out for the middle class with a $5 thousand tax deduction for healthcare (since it will cost about 12 thousand, this proposal is bunk).

Obama: We're going to have to take on entitlements. I am proposing a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans with a 50 percent tax cut for small business owners to provide health care. Reiterates McCain is setting up for tax cuts for the wealthy. Solving the health care problems will leave more money available for business investment.

McCain: I'll answer the question - then he goes into more attacks on Obama. Attack, attack, and attack Obama. Let's look at our records my friends (reminds me of a snake oil salesman - oops, sorry maybe a little too snarky there).

Both candidates are even tempered so far, keeping their tone conversational - so far no grumpiness. Both candidates are talking about their support for energy independence (chalk one up for T. Boone) and creating a new energy economy.

Obama favors nuclear power as one component of an energy policy. He takes on the fallacy of drilling our way out of the problem. For more details on drilling read my story on McCain"s Drilling Hogwash.

Brokaw scolds them, again, for running too long.

McCain: Obama's a dirty rotten scoundrel who votes for earmarks (OK so I'm paraphrasing a bit, lol).

Should healthcare be treated as a commodity?

Obama: Healthcare is one of the most often asked questions of me. If you have healthcare and are happy with it, you can keep it. We'll work with employers to lower premiums. If you don't have health insurance you will be able to buy a policy like the one McCain and I have.

McCain: Put health care records online, have walk-in care centers. It is not the place for government to impose mandates. Go across state lines to have more competition. Don't mandate, give the people choices with a tax credit.

McCain: Healthcare is a responsibility of government (yeah well, at least it's a step in the right direction).

Obama: Reiterates his plan.

Belmont University: 8:00 p.m.

Tom Brokaw is explaining the format and rules, etc. I overestimated the size of the audience, there are 80 people. Introduce candidates, smile shake. So much for civilities.

How do you bail out older people (perhaps inferring those on a fixed income)? Obama, "Failed policies, deregulation, etc." Step One: bailout - no golden parachutes (um, like at AIG?) step two - tax cuts for middle class.

McCain, "Thanks for your question, its our job to fix this problem. Energy independence with a package of reforms." Home values continue to decline and then a bunch of other stuff like, "I know how to solve...(insert problem here)"

I'm having trouble getting McCain's answer to connect with the question.

Who would be treasury secretary? Both candidates kind of wandered through the answer. Neither one willing to name someone specifically.

Brokaw gently scolds them for lengthy answers.

What caused the economic crisis?

McCain: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Obama and his cronies done it. There were some of us who stood up to them and there were others (inferring Obama of course) took a hike.

Obama: Credit freeze and I need to correct McCain's statement. McCain is a deregulator. I wrote to Paulson & Bernanke and went to Wall Street to get tougher regulations. This is the beginning of the process, not the end. Archaic regulation system needs to be modernized and we have to change the culture in Washington.

How can we trust either of you when both parties got us into this economic mess?

Obama: I understand you cynicism, you're right there's plenty of blame to go around. But, when Bush came into office we had a deficit. We have had over the past 8 years deficit spending and that mentality has led us down this path.

McCain: I can see why you feel the mistrust. I have been a consistent reformer with a clear history of bipartisanship. Obama voted for every pork-barrel project that came across his desk. Get people working but don't spend any money on them. Energy independence.

Nashville: 7:30 p.m.

One half hour to go and the political types are beginning to show up on campus; an army of surrogate speakers dressed to the nines and ready to promote their candidate on a moment's notice. They're "working the room" as the old saying goes and the media tents are jumping. There are two absolutely, painstakingly, identical tents; one for each campaign so nobody feels slighted.

Both sides are trying to explain why their candidate is going to win the debate while the moderators try to play devil's advocate and, in some cases, feign impartiality. Although, some of them don't bother with pretenses.

This is the debate, I'm sure you have heard, in which John McCain is going to "take off the gloves" although I'm not convinced that the town hall format is going to allow for much hand-to-hand combat. It is true enough however, that McCain is going to have to do something quick if he is going to remain competitive. His poll numbers are going down the drain with every passing day.

He and Governor Sarah Palin have subsequently begun a "kitchen sink" strategy that, considering what they have been throwing, is more of a "toilet bowl" strategy.

In the debate it is going to get down to who is able to stay steady in the saddle and talk to people in terms of their concerns.

Stay tuned, I'll be back with more shortly.

Nashville: 6 p.m. (Nashville time, of course)

Two hours before the beginning of the debate and the city is in full swing. Both candidates are sequestered with their respective teams and will come to the campus after a while although they have visited the Curb Center at separate times for a walk through and orientation. John McCain arrived at early evening yesterday and Barack Obama got here just a little after noon today.

There is a block party on Belmont Boulevard which ends at 6:30 p.m. that features celebrity impersonators of Sarah Palin, Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. It is complete with all sorts of tented booths and, despite the rain, it has been getting a lot of foot traffic.

Dan Miller, longtime anchor of WSMV, the NBC affiliate for Nashville, is broadcasting live from campus as well. The channel's news team is spread out reporting from various locations while Demetria Kalodimos, the co-anchor with Dan, keeps things moving along in the studio. I'll be polite and not guess her age but she has been with WSMV since 1984 and remains a local favorite with many people.

Nashville: 4 p.m.

Representative Marsha Blackburn (R) is making the rounds of the pre-debate interviews. These Tennessee politicians must think they have died and gone to heaven with all the national press in town. I don't think I have ever seen Rep. Blackburn on a national show before.

There's a pro-Obama group that has been organizing at the corner of 21st Avenue and Magnolia Boulevard. They plan to march to Belmont (if the rain allows) in a show of solidarity for Democrats in a Republican-majority state.

The campus itself has a carnival-like atmosphere of course with all of the comings and goings of high-profile folks. Security is omnipresent. There are big chunks of the campus where you cannot go unless you are important enough for security to escort through those areas. Those boys and girls have no sense of humor. I have a story about presidential security but I'll save that for another time. Suffice it to say you don't joke around with them.

You can sense that the whole city is absorbed with the debate. There is a watch party scheduled by Belmont at the Ryman Theater, the original home of The Grand Ol' Opry, if you're lucky enough to be able to get a ticket. There was a watch party scheduled by AARP at the band shell in Centennial Park but the weather may keep people away. They had a McCain watch party scheduled for the convention center but another event took over the space and pushed them out.

Democratic Representative Jim Cooper has reserved one of the Belcourt Theater's two cinemas; the Nashville Bar Association has rented the other one. Bongo Java at 2007 Belmont Boulevard in the Hillsboro area is the watch party closest to the campus. They have big screen TVs and they will be hosting a bake sale outside of their business with benefits going to the Democratic Party. There are all sorts of other event throughout the metro area and beyond.

Nashville: 2:30 p.m.

Chuck Todd of MCNBC has been interviewing Republican Senator Lamar Alexander on how Tennesseans are thinking. Alexander is running for re-election so, of course, he's more than willing to talk to everyone. Alexander was the governor of Tennessee back in the 1970s. He took the office in an election that shut the door on former Governor Ray Blanton's career. Blanton was a Democrat and probably one of the most corrupt politicians in the history of the state.

Alexander cleaned up a lot of the mess that Blanton left behind but then, of course, started carrying Republican thinking into state management. He has always been active in the state since then and when Fred Thompson declined to run for re-election, Alexander was drafted to run. In this blood-red state Alexander was a shoo-in with the actual vote count coming through as anti-climatic.

Music City: 1:45 p.m.

The big day has finally arrived. Nashville has been prepping for the debate for a while now and everybody is ready. The debate organizers have praised the folks at Belmont University on both their work and their spirit of cooperation.

I don't believe Belmont has ever allowed alcohol on campus but in this one instance they compromised and have given permission for alcohol to be served in the media tent. You probably ought to make a mark or put a big star somewhere because I seriously doubt if it will ever happen again.

We have had several weeks of dry weather but now that the debate is here what happens? It rains of course! Everybody and their uncle are broadcasting from this campus so now they have to use umbrellas. Well, umbrellas and little tent things and such. I saw one man in an imported suit (fancy threads) walk by holding a copy of The Tennessean over his head trying to get out of the rain. Welcome to Nashville buddy.

The forecast says this rain will come and go as the day progresses so we'll see what happens. Since this is just the front end of the weather pattern, the biggest showers will come tomorrow.

It's a little over six hours until the debate starts so I'll be updating periodically. If you have questions put them into the comments section and I'll try to answer them as we go along.

Stay tuned.