10.36 pm. Obama won it - quite easily. It was overwhelming before the final break. But decisive nonetheless. I can't see how she manages to rescue her campaign now. And his momentum will continue. It's over, right?
10.29 pm. A nice classy semi-closer from Obama. And in a very smart way, he made a substance argument and a detail argument.
10.09 pm. Farrakhan. Does Obama understand that saying he has consistently denounced him is not the same as simply saying, "I denounce him"? A weak response - reminiscent of Dukakis. (By the way, why is it somehow only a question for Jewish Americans that Farrakhan is a fascist hate-monger? It's a question for all Americans.) Obama's Farrakhan response suggests to me he is reluctant to attack a black demagogue. Maybe he wants to avoid a racial melee. But he has one. He needs to get real on this. Weak, weak, weak. Clinton sees an opening and pounces. She wins this round. He is forced to adjust. His worst moment in any debate since this campaign started. I'm astounded he couldn't be more forceful. His inability to say by himself, unprompted, that Farrakhan's support repels him and he rejects it outright really unsettles me.
I have not believed that Obama has an ounce of sympathy for a creep like Farrakhan. But Obama has now made me doubt this. If David Duke called John McCain a good man, would McCain hesitate to say he'd rather Duke opposed him? If this is how Obama wants to tackle this emotive issue, he needs to get real.
10.06 pm. The tax returns question. About time. Clinton's response is beyond lame. "I don't have much time right now." Please. Thanks, Tim, for forcing her to answer. She has no answer. That's a big deal. If Obama were a different candidate, he would keep on this theme until she relents.
10 pm. A really smart critique of the co-president meme. Better than my fulminations. My own view is that his greatest advantage is his temperament. And this temperament will create a very interesting contrast with McCain. Obama is as smooth and as calm as McCain is prickly and emotional. I like McCain, and I have similar passions and emotions. But in a president? Obama actually seems cooler.
9.55 pm. A wobbly start back for Obama. But a decent rescue. It's good for someone not to be defensive around the most effective critique of his campaign so far. But he went too far. Senator Obama, you are interested in speeches, and words. Like Reagan was. Like any national leader must be. A reader emails to say that Clinton is running for class president; and he's running for leader of the free world.
9.48 pm. "He hasn't held a single hearing." That will be used by McCain. It's a solid point. But it's not that big a deal. McCain won't make it seem quite so petty. And whenever Clinton talks of her foreign policy experience as First Lady, it doesn't really work. Again: she has had more experience considering and thinking about foreign policy issues than he has. But she hasn't found a way to make the point effectively.
9.42 pm. Obama's push-back on the war was strong. "Facilitated and enabled" Bush? Ouch. But the biggest moment was Clinton's claiming that Obama was "threatening" to bomb Pakistan. A confident candidate doesn't go there. And Obama's response to Russert's emphatic tone on Iraq was measured and cool. I know I'm biased but I think he's mopping this thing up so far. This is one of his best debate performances of the campaign.
9.40 pm. Is he praying?
9.30 pm. It's always better in these debates to be conciliatory to your opponent. Obama keeps coming off as the generous, sane, calm one. Whenever he says that Clinton or Russert have made a good point, he has authority. I know she has to do something to break out of her losing position. But she hasn't yet been able to do it in a way that doesn't make her seem angry, whiny or pissy at times. All in all, he seems like a president. She seems annoyed.
9.23 pm. NAFTA. I agree more with her than him. But he cleaned up. In Ohio, this is a big deal. And Tim Russert just pummeled her on it. Why can't she just say it turned out worse than she hoped for? It's okay to say you've changed your mind, Senator Clinton.
9.20 pm. She's whining about getting the first question? You almost want to look away.
9.15 pm. Oh, man. She just sounds unnecessarily contentious about something extremely abstruse. In temperament, he wins hands down. In substance, I'm with him, but I'm not a Democrat. But her attempt to say "I know" about the impact of mandates is not an argument. And the gambit of trying to equate non-mandated but subsidized universal healthcare is the equivalent of privatizing social security is just not working.
He keeps calmly trying to be sane and she seems as if she won't shut up. At times, he looks exasperatedly at the anchors. And smiles. Advantage: Obama.
(Photo: J.D. Pooley/Getty.)