Much better than the previous ones. More substantive. More interactive. I was worried about old hack Bob Scheiffer as moderator, but he was pretty good.
I thought McCain started much better than Obama, who seemed a little off his game, a little slow and befuddled at the outset. McCain had him on the defensive for most of the first half of the debate.
About an hour in, though, McCain seemed to get tired and made three significant tactical blunders. First, he blew the Ayers/ACORN attack (which Obama only weakly refuted) by trying to segue into an argument that he was focused on the economy not character. Second, he got gobsmacked by Obama on the cost of health care plans. And third, he really messed up the partial birth abortion question, with his sneering air quotes on the health of the mother.
The split screen on HD really hurt McCain badly. He seemingly couldn’t control his Tourette’s-like mannerisms — grunting, snorting, eye-rolling, grimacing, lip-licking — or his obvious disdain for and condescending attitude toward Obama, who played it with his usual preternatural cool.
I think McCain won the debate scorecard — he had more hits and took less direct damage. Substantively, I think it was a slight tilt to Obama, who seemed more credible and in control of his material. But on form, Obama crushed McCain — he presented starkly the choice between the unflappable young man and the angry old bastard. As one commentator said afterwards, do we really want to see McCain’s hideous face on our TV screens for the next four years?