ELECTION COUNTDOWN 2008
THE FINAL SHOWDOWN
"Hey, Joe, they're talkin'
about you on the TV
right now! That cranky
old guy is stickin' up
for you, too!"
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF JOE THE PLUMBER
McCain scored better than usual, but was it enough?
By CHUCK McFADDEN
Theres a kitchen sink missing somewhere in America.
Well, a figurative one, anyway. It was one of the things Sen. John McCain hurled at Sen. Barack Obama during Wednesdays side-by-side debate. The kitchen sink was accompanied by accusations involving William Ayers, the former bomber turned college professor, a voter-registration organization with the acronym ACORN, and anything else that came to mind.
Down in the polls, with battleground states slipping away, McCains sole remaining tactic had to be attack, attack, attack. And so it was. Despite the cuddly setup with both men sitting at a table with moderator Bob Schieffer, it was sometimes a blistering encounter. The two candidates disagreed on taxes, on health care, on energy policy, on vouchers for schools. They were close up and personal, and that made it the best of the three debates.
The debate gave the world a new celebrity--Joe the Plumber. He was a man Obama encountered at an Ohio rally who complained to Obamas face that Obamas tax plan would prevent him from buying a plumbing business he had worked hard for. McCains staff followed up on him, seeking to use his situation to their advantage by demonstrating how Obama would make things tough for small business. Obama and McCain both worked hard to assure Joe of their tender feelings for him. It was one of those ploys that probably sounded great in the McCain staff meeting, but it pretty much fell flat with CNNs focus group.
It was probably McCains best debate. He exhibited passion, and deflected Obamas attempt to link him to unpopular President George W. Bush with the best line of the night: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.
Was it enough?
This was the last of the three presidential debates. McCain was still in desperate need of a game-changer. Once again, it didnt happen.
The instant CNN poll had Obama winning the debate, making it a clean three-debate sweep for Obama.
The CNN figures:
Who did better? Obama 58 percent; McCain 31 percent
Who showed better leadership? Obama 50 percent; McCain 39 percent
What did the debate do for you in terms of your impression of each candidate? Obama 63 percent pre-debate favorable, going up to 66 percent favorable after the debate; McCain going down from 35 percent favorable to 33 percent.
Who was more likeable? Obama 70 percent; McCain 22 percent.
CBS had similar results in their instant poll, with 53 percent of uncommitted voters surveyed saying that Obama won the debate. Twenty-two percent said McCain won, and 25 percent said it was a draw. Among uncommitted voters, CBS had 61 per cent of those polled saying they trusted Obama on health care pre-debate, climbing to 68 percent after the debate. Only 27 percent trusted McCain on health care before the debate, but that rose to 30 percent afterward.
Now, lets put in the usual caveat here--instant polls are just that, and may not be as accurate as their sponsors would like. But so far this election year, the quickie polls have been pretty much on the money.
Obama was in charge of the facts and again demonstrated that he is a cool, highly intelligent and formidable debater. At one time during the 90-minute encounter, for instance, McCain reiterated his proposal for a federal spending freeze to help the country out of its current financial crisis. A few minutes later, McCain was talking about the federal government needing to reach out to the parents of children with autism. Obama wondered how McCain intended to do that, given his proposed spending freeze.
Obama smiled a lot; McCain grimaced. He went back to his standard stump speech time and again. Obama cited lots of figures, and, as usual, was fond of the point one, point two, point three debating technique.
And now after Debate Number One, Debate Number Two, and Debate Number Three, John McCains main challenge is convincing everyone that the election is not over. Barring the unexpected, it will be a tough sell.
©2008 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted on Oct. 16, 2008.
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