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I'd call tonight's debate a draw, which if the dynamic from the first debate holds probably means it was a big win for Obama. I was gratified by the approach McCain took - by the absence of personal attacks (though, yes, the dislike still came through), by the attempt to actually engage with Obama on issues like health care, and yes, by the promise to buy up home mortgages, which was exactly the kind of blatantly panderish thing McCain needs to do if he wants to actually win this thing. (More on this tomorrow.) But Obama was unruffled and consistent - change vs. more of the same, change vs. more of the same, rinse and repeat - and for whatever it's worth the physical and generational contrast between the two men was very striking in this setting, and especially in the early going McCain seemed to me be showing his age as he delivered his answers. He improved as the night went on, but the vigor gap was palpable.

Oh, and everyone who's pointed out this wasn't anything like a real "town hall" meeting is exactly right. They should have just had Tom Brokaw moderate the thing, if this was the tone and format they were looking for. The whole thing had an unpleasant Potemkin feel to it, like the questioners were all afraid of what Brokaw might do to them if they strayed even modestly from the script.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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