10.33 pm. This was, I think, a mauling: a devastating and possibly electorally fatal debate for McCain. Even on Russia, he sounded a little out of it. I've watched a lot of debates and participated in many. I love debate and was trained as a boy in the British system to be a debater. I debated dozens of times at Oxofrd. All I can say is that, simply on terms of substance, clarity, empathy, style and authority, this has not just been an Obama victory. It has been a wipe-out.It has been about as big a wipe-out as I can remember in a presidential debate. It reminds me of the 1992 Clinton-Perot-Bush debate. I don't really see how the McCain campaign survives this.

10.26 pm. Israel and Iran: I'm relieved that this question is raised. It's the hardest question the next president will have to face. I honestly feel very conflicted about this. I want to know how these candidates will react. McCain's invocation of a "league of democracies" as the answer is a little bizarre. Obama's answer was very political and very persuasive. I just don't believe we can stop Iran, although Obama's answer on gasoline imports was specific and smart. He won the exchange, but he didn't convince me. I wish he had.

10.15 pm. This is Obama's sucker-punch. "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." Ouch. Pow. Oof. Nothing aloof about that right hook.

10.11 pm. "We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al Qaeda." This is a Democratic candidate. Can you remember the last one who used rhetoric like that on national security?

10.07 pm. McCain's response on the surge and genocide was a good one. I'm not sure that the surge has solved anything rather than simply freezing the civil war in place, but he has a decent moral point on this. But Obama's measured mix of moral concern with pragmatic alliance-building was very strong. It's really a return to Niebuhrian realism.

10.02 pm. It would have been a strong moment for McCain when he cited "no on the job training" in the White House. And then he picked Palin! She can't even hold a press conference and he thinks she can be trusted with national security at a moment's notice. It makes no sense.

9.59 pm. On CNN, Obama has reached the maximum with women voters a few times and literally couldn't go up any further. The gender gap is very powerful in these debate insta-reax polls at least. Even Palin ran well behind with women.

9.56 pm. Mandates? I thought I sat through countless debates with Hillary when Obama was opposed to mandates, while Hillary was in favor of them. His response about his mother was very powerful.

9.55 pm. Hair transplants? Where on earth did that come from?

9.54 pm. McCain: "Obama will find you." He's treating him like the Boogeyman. People know he isn't. So it just makes McCain look paranoid.

9.51 pm. Why is McCain wandering around the stage while Obama is talking? It's weird. He looks like an old man pacing aimlessly. And he doesn't look at Obama while Obama talks the way Obama looks at him when McCain talks. This is not that important but I don't think it helps McCain.

9.49 pm. Two flashes from McCain so far: "that one," referring to Obama, and citing Obama's "secret." Nasty, uncivil and not even effective.

9.48 pm. The format: I'm surprised because frankly, I think this format is helping Obama, especially since it emphasizes movement. And Obama is physically very fluent. McCain sadly isn't.

9.42 pm. I like McCain on social security. The old pre-Rove McCain was someone I loved. But I can't trust him on this any more after this campaign, I'm afraid. Alas: "have a commission" is a little lame as an answer.

9.41 pm. Obama got a little muddled on taxes there.

9.38 pm. Memo to McCain: don't talk about Herbert Hoover. The Abraham Simpson problem.

9.33 pm. Obama's response on the question of sacrifice of citizens was out of the park. He was able to ask for sacrifice without seeming like a scold or a doom-monger. That's tough. And his insistence that he too favors off-shore drilling and reveres military service and wants others to shoulder the burden now uniquely born by the military was exactly right. This is overwhelmingly now in Obama's favor.

9.29 pm. Good for McCain on tackling earmarks. But he knows this is trivial in the context of the entire federal budget. I have to say that Obama is winning this so far on substance, crispness and authority.

9.25 pm. Kudos to McCain on entitlement reform. But his refusal to prioritize among healthcare, energy and entitlement reform and insist we can do everything at once did not sound like a decisive and clear leader.

9.21 pm. Obama's riff on the Republican fiscal profligacy was important. It's vital not to forget the Republican responsibility for our fiscal mess.

9.17 pm. McCain is at least looking at Obama. Alas, when he walks around, he seems a little older than he does at a podium. This isn't his fault. But the age and generational factor seems more pronounced tonight.I thnk it's a mistake to attack "Obama's cronies". It seemed partisan and negative when people want constructive solutions.

9.14 pm. So far, Obama is walking away with this. I'm a little stunned that McCain's first response to the financial crisis was to cite energy independence, a policy where both candidates are closely aligned. But Obama has also put in a couple of jabs that seemed off to me. The winner will be the man who addresses the concrete issues in a way that most people can understand. So far, Obama is winning that. But he's been a little off in challenging McCain.

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