I usually spend these debates watching them, while following various live-blogs of them. This time, I'm gonna take a crack at it.
PRE-GAME... All Obama needs to do here is run out the clock, keep it consistent, sound knowledgeable and reassuring, etc. Basically, do exactly what he's done in the first two debates. He will hammer McCain on policy no doubt, but anything he uses against McCain besides that will most likely be in response to whatever McCain brings up. And that's where the drama is.
McCain still needs that "game-changer". He didn't get it in the first debate: repeatedly saying Obama "doesn't understand", followed by repeated instances of Obama responding to questions as if he clearly
understood the issues at hand, didn't work. He didn't get it in the second debate: Obama was equally unflappable, and McCain looked conspicuously unpresidential with his "that one" comment. Sooo here? We can look forward to McCain possibly invoking some of the trumped-up Obama bogeymen: Ayers, Rezko, ACORN and, though highly unlikely, Wright. Problem is, three of those four things were thoroughly pored over by reporters during the Primary campaign, and McCain is as closely related to ACORN as Obama is. (watch for McCain to lie that ACORN is about "voter fraud", a serious crime, when the actual issue is "voter registration fraud", a substantially less dire issue)
The reason he's gonna bring up that stuff is, well, Obama/Biden have baited him to do so, and he's a proud, proud man. He might look bad bringing that stuff up. McCain's hope, then, is that the moderator, Bob Schieffer, brings it up for him. Which he might. We'll see...
6:00 Hofstra University. In Hempstead, NY. I used to live on Hempstead Avenue. In Goleta, but it was still Hempstead!
6:02 Please let Schieffer not be such as horrible a stickler for the rules as Brokaw was last week.
6:03 A friendly welcome, with niceties exchanged. How far we've come.
6:05 "Fannie & Freddie Mae". Oops.
6:06 McCain going on about his government-buy-mortgages plan, the one he didn't consult with his advisers about before announcing in the second debate. Please keep talking about it, since nobody likes it.
6:07 McCain did not mention the words "middle class" in his response to the economic-plan question. Obama has jumped on this, good.
6:10 The use of the phrase "small business" in political discourse can include so many things, but the vast, vast majority of small businesses do not fall into the Republican fantasy of what they really are, and thus the vast majority of them won't see their taxes increase under Obama's plan. By the way, if you had "Joe the plumber" in your drinking game, you are probably on the floor by now.
6:18 There's the "across the board spending freeze" again. One of those phrases that sounds good but means nothing. He has identified, in interviews, minor programs he wouldn't cut, so if they're on the bottom end of the priority list of things he wouldn't freeze spending on, it's a meaningless idea.
6:19 Line-item veto? Wasn't that deemed unconstitutional after the Gingrich congress gave it to Clinton?
6:23 Obama is smacking down the $42,000 tax lie. "Even Fox News disputes it."
6:26 Here we go. Hahaha the town hall meetings! He wouldn't have had his campaign say "palled around with terrorists?" if they had more debates?
6:30 Notice that McCain had a chance to talk about Ayers etc, but didn't do it. First chance: wussed out on. See if he tries it again later.
6:33 When given the choice, McCain has chosen to insult some of his own supporters. At a time when his supporters are expecting him to bring up Ayers et al. Whoops!
6:40 And there he goes. That was a lot of bullshit in 4 minutes. I could have watched that new Britney video instead. Nothing big though, nothing but the vague bullet-points of McCain's ads.
6:42 And Mr McCain, as your reward for saying the Ayers stuff (sort of) to Obama's face, you shall now be subjected to 2 minutes of trying to explain why Sarah Palin would make a great President! "A breash of freath air"
6:45 My sense of the Ayers/Acorn/etc exchange is that McCain wanted to say his one or two bits and then get out of it as fast as he could. He seemed uncomfortable.
6:46 If this was a closer race, we would have seen Obama go after McCain's current
associations as pertaining to his policy advisers.
6:54 Did I just see an eye-roll? I'm pretty sure I just saw an eye-roll from McCain. On the issue of Colombian free trade, no less!
6:58 The CNN independent voter dials really love Obama's health care answer. They don't like McCain's, especially the women.
7:04 After seriously out-classing McCain on the health care question, Obama gets to watch McCain morph his simple small-business plumber "Joe" into a "rich" man ("congratulations!") to try to defend his taxing of health benefits.
7:07 "Supreme Court nominees based on qualifications". But not for VP nominees, John?
7:08 Whoa, some mega cognitive dissonance there from McCain. His line about support of Roe V Wade being a disqualifier will make its way into an Obama ad.
7:12 Watching the pundits' and the independents' reactions to McCain's abortion attacks in real time is an interesting window into the alternate reality in which cable news personalities seem to live. Also, McCain had essentially nothing to say to Obama's Lily Ledbetter answer. Just a throwaway line of unpresidential snark.
7:16 Obama: "Just say no to cavalier sexual behavior". Cough cough Bristol cough cough.
7:22 Obama just played the "The Greatest Love Of All" card. (:
7:26 Yes, it was an eye-roll!
7:27 Hey closing statements! Last chance!
McCain: Serve serve serve record etc.
Obama: Middle class sacrifice work for you etc.
Nice joke from Bill Bennett just now: "Not since the Nixon years have we hears so much about plumbers".
RECAP: McCain had a nice start, but lost the last 60 minutes. Particularly on health care, abortion, education, and pretty much everything after his brief (and quickly aborted) Ayers exchange. As Nate puts it
in the 538 liveblog: "Congratulations, President Obama".