10.31 pm. Closing statements: McCain seemed almost wistful. Obama ended on "sacrifice, service and responsibility." Obama won this for the third time. A small prediction: there will be YouTube mash-ups of McCain's facial reactions on the split screen. And they will have a longer life, for good or ill, than many of the substantive exchanges.
10.28 pm. McCain seems unable to actually say Obama's name. Even when saying it's been great to be with him. Maybe the transcripts will help me. But how often has McCain said Barack or Obama, compared to how many times Obama has said John or McCain? If you have nothing better to do while I live-blog, let me know and I'll post the data.
10.25 pm. I agree with McCain on much of the education issue, but I don't feel confident in him. That's the problem: even when you agree with him, he doesn't seem engaged enough to get it done.
10.18 pm. At no point have we seen a grace note from McCain. When dealing with the negativism of the campaign, it would not have killed him to seem genuinely horrified at calls for violence rather than offended that anyone dare criticize him or some of his supporters. Or to wish Obama well. It's this lack of generosity of spirit that he lacks and that people want in a president. Obama still manages to say when he agrees with or admires McCain. In this whole dynamic, Obama seems more secure, more self-controlled, more mature. He is the Alpha Male on this stage, and McCain the bristling teen - aged 72. No wonder women seem to be so disproportionately pro-Obama.
10.15 pm. Obama seems centrist on abortion. And he called sexuality "sacred".
10.14 pm. McCain needs to stop the eye-rolling. It's the contempt again. But he is trying to save himself on the life issue.
10.10 pm. Obama: "Abortion is a moral issue." That's actually a rhetorical shift from Democratic nominees in the past. Obama played to his base more successfully than McCain on this issue. And he did better with the middle. Again: this debate is closer than the last one. But only just. And Obama is still winning this - substantively and stylistically. That can't be good for McCain. A tie isn't good for McCain.
10.09 pm. McCain on the court: no litmus test. Except Roe. But not really. But not abortion rights supporters. But it's not a litmus test. What?
10.04 pm. Hi, Joe! How you doin'? How's the pipe-laying business? By the way, does anyone have a healthcare plan that pays for cosmetic surgery?
10.03 pm. They both lose me on healthcare. For the first time, I didn't follow Obama. But the $900 extra on your premium for the uninsured is a good statistic.
10 pm. Joe the fricking plumber again?
9.57 pm. Some readers seem to think my description of Obama as boring is meant as a criticism. Subjectively, maybe it doesn't give me a Lowry. But objectively, it's brilliant. The first black president will only get there by boring a lot of white people. And haven't we had enough drama in the last eight years? Boring is fucking awesome after Bush.
9.53 pm. "Maybe you ought to travel down there." C'mon, McCain, this is weeeaaak. And petty. And incoherent. McCain's veep only got a passport last year and McCain is attacking Obama for not visiting Colombia. He needs to look like a big man to become an independent president. Instead this campaign has made him look very, very small. Even against a freshman senator.
9.52 pm. The split-screen isn't doing McCain any favors. His harrumphing and blinking and impatience remind me a teensy bit of Gore in 2000. Obama has smiled much more. And he has been positive more often. I know McCain had to get a little testy to get back in the game. But it still feels off to me.
9.50 pm. Obama is for off-shore drilling. "Use 'em or lose 'em!" Palin's rhetoric with an actual mind behind it. Still, it's boring, isn't it? Which means Obama wins, I think.
9.46 pm. "We're seeing Iraqis united as Iraqis." Yes, McCain just said that. Yes: the next president could be even more delusional about Iraq than the current one.
9.44 pm. McCain on Palin: completely delusional. "She understands that autism is on the rise?" By the way, she sure has ignited a lot of people. On that McCain is correct. Otherwise: this pick was insane.
9. 43 pm. Obama on Biden: zzzzzz.
9.40 pm. McCain is getting ugly and petty and it isn't pretty. Maybe it's all he's got. If it is: not good enough.
9.34 pm. "I'm proud of the people who come to our rallies." Amazing. He's also angry and cranky. He seems as if he is in deep, deep denial. He also seems barely in control of his emotions. Obama seems almost preternaturally calm in the face of all this. Just as amazing.
9.30 pm. On the meta-narrative, McCain is interested in talking about the campaign. Obama keeps steering the debate back to issues.
9.27 pm. McCain is acting as if he is the victim of negative advertizing.
9.26 pm. Schieffer's moral equivalence between the despicable smears of the McCain campaign with the toughness of Obama's.
9.25 pm. McCain is better than he has been in the past debates in mapping out his differences with Bush.
9.21 pm. Best line from McCain in three debates: "I am not president Bush. If you want to run against president Bush, you should have done that four years ago." But the "sure, I will," to the notion that he will balance the budget in his first four years.
9.19 pm. Neither is convincing on spending. Neither. But does McCain
think we can get past a $10 trillion debt by ending ethanol subsidies?
And again with the porky planetarium.
9.17 pm. Memo to McCain: don't remind people that you remember the last Depression.
9.12 pm. McCain is dreadful on taxes. He can't even go on the attack successfully on solid Republican ground. But I find myself tuning out. Obama is boring. McCain is coming off cranky.
9.10 pm. Tax cuts for plumbers!
9.09 pm. Simple human observation. Obama looks straight into the camera more intently than McCain does. He looks straight at McCain much more comfortably than McCain looks at Obama. And when McCain is asked whether he wants to ask Obama a question, a simple no would suffice. McCain's sudden look of horror at the prospect was not good television.
9.05 pm. Is McCain still promising to buy up every bad mortgage in the country? By the way, as I begin this last lap, I feel as tired of this as John McCain and Barack Obama look.
(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty.)