Town hall format flatters McCain. But poise and substance help Obama win.

McCain and Obama-debate October 7, 2008By Judy Asman

Tonight, Michelle Obama will speak with Larry King and answer viewer questions. Learn more here.

NASHVILLE,TENN.(RUSHPRNEWS)10/08/08—When Allen Schaffer posed the first question at Tuesday’s presidential debate to Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain regarding their immediate solutions to manage the U.S. economy, it looked like McCain might trump Obama as far as audience response. Not because of McCain’s proposal to become energy-independent of other countries or to “stop the spending spree in Washington” but because McCain addressed Schaffer with direct eye contact and what seemed like compassion for Schaffer’s individual experience. Schaffer, in turn, looked pleased, nodding his head as if he felt understood by McCain.

Obama, on the other hand, opened the event by briefly thanking Schaffer for his question then redirecting his attention to Belmont University and the rest of the audience. Obama’s response was specific and tactical, as is consistent with his presentation in the first debate. But for a moment it looked like his intentions to enforce the recently passed rescue plan, hold CEOs accountable for reckless spending and offer tax cuts to the middle class might be obscured by his ivory tower appeal.

But even an emotional, seemingly down-home presentation by McCain couldn’t save his approval numbers even while debating in a format where he is most comfortable, the traditional town hall.

Post-debate coverage showed Obama leading McCain by 54% to 30%, according to CNN. A CBS poll favored Obama by a narrower margin at 39% to 27%. Reports around the country are still showing voters favoring Obama for his poise and substantive responses, while opining McCain came off as “rude and condescending.” Many voters took issue with McCain’s reference to “that one” when addressing Obama for voting on an energy bill “loaded down with goodies” and billions of dollars for the oil companies.

As the debate went on, McCain continued to run interference with Obama. Using the same rhetoric he used in the first debate with regard to Obama’s position on Pakistan, all the while taking of advantage of posing the second response, where the Illinois Democrat would not technically have the right to retort. Despite this, it was left to Obama to insist he have the chance to clarify his position, to which moderator Tom Brokaw agreed.

Emotional statements about Washington’s gluttonous spending, national security threats and a handshake with a petty officer aside, McCain showed inconsistencies in his position with regard to healthcare while not once mentioning how the middle class would benefit from his economic proposals.

While first saying his administration could attack health care and energy issues at the same time, McCain later said he views healthcare as a responsibility as a opposed to a right, which Obama feels it is. Laying out generalities such as putting health records online, opening community health centers and walk-in clinics, McCain never offered how his proposal would come to life fiscally but only mentioned a $5,000 tax credit.

Obama’s position on health care seemed more targeted to the current crisis that co-payments and deductibles have risen 30% in the last year alone. The Democrats would help employers lower the cost of premiums by $2,500 for those who currently have health insurance, while investing in prevention, Obama said. Those without insurance can expect to see efforts toward lowering the costs of premiums and eliminating exclusions for those with pre-existing conditions, but Obama did not specify where the U.S. government would generate the revenue to execute his proposals.

McCain, while trying to offer specifics on his economic proposals, also said the Treasury Department should buy up bad mortgages, which could cost the U.S. $300 billion, all the while insisting there was already an excess of government spending. His positions on nuclear energy were also presented as extreme, as McCain said his administration would “work on nuclear power plants, build a whole bunch of them and create millions of new jobs.”

Tonight, Michelle Obama will speak one-on-one with CNN’s Larry King and answer viewer questions. Learn more here.

Photo: Judy Asman

About the author: Judy Asman is RushPRnews’ political columnist. Her media career started in the late 1980s, when she was a college disc jockey and promotions director for KUSF-FM, San Francisco. She earned her Master’s in journalism and public affairs at American University in Washington, DC and served as a producer for Potomac News Bureau and C-SPAN’s “America and the Courts.” She is also the producer of You may contact Judy at

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