The final debate...

Did Obama weather the debate assaults?
Thu Oct 16 , 2008
The third and final presidential debate also was the nastiest. As Politico's Roger Simon notes, Sen. John McCain sometimes "attacked directly, and sometimes he attacked sarcastically, but he never stopped attacking." Yet, Simon writes, he "never rattled" Sen. Barack Obama, who "answered every attack and kept his cool. How cool? Obama was so cool that after 90 minutes under blazing TV lights, an ice cube wouldn't have melted on his forehead....He never got off his game plan. He never got shook up." The result, Simon concludes: "John McCain needed a miracle in his final debate with Barack Obama on Wednesday night, a miracle that would wipe away McCain's deficit in the polls and re-energize his flagging campaign. He did not get one. The clouds did not part. Heavenly choirs were not heard. Instead, the American public heard angry attacks from McCain."
James Fallows of The Atlantic found the debate not only tough, but the most interesting of the three. McCain "has not controlled his disdain for Obama in previous debates, and he's not even trying now." Above all, Fallows writes, the passages "that began with Obama looking at McCain and talking about crowds at (Sarah) Palin rallies saying ‘Kill him' were riveting TV and seemed to reveal purified versions of the persona each candidate has been presenting through the previous sessions. This debate may matter less in the long-term outcome than the others, since that's typically true of final debates. But because the contenders are engaging each other more directly - being at the same table, being physically so close to each other, having more trouble containing their emotions, being aware that the whole thing is almost over - in human terms this is actually the most interesting."
The New York Times' Patrick Healy also takes note of McCain's many attacks on Obama during the debates and writes, "It seemed as if Mr. McCain was veering from one hot button to another, pressing them all, hoping to goad Mr. Obama into an outburst or a mistake that would alter the shape of the race in its last three weeks. But for a punch to make a difference, the punch needs to do something to its target - to rattle, to wound, or (best of all) cause the opponent to counterpunch in a self-defeating way." And while the overall consensus seems to be that McCain probably didn't change the race, "For some Republicans, the debate performance was Mr. McCain's best, especially his moments of focus on the economy and taxes and Mr. Obama's record. There was relief among Republicans, if not a declaration that Mr. McCain had turned his campaign in a winning direction."'s Walter Shapiro, who largely agreed with the rest of his fellow pundits, also took a minute to look at what happens next. "In late September, before the first debate, Bill McInturff, a McCain pollster, predicted that the contours of the race would not be known until a few days after the final debate when public opinion finally had a chance to settle. That is why McCain's fate will probably be dictated by whether the weekend polls tighten or Obama continues to flirt with a double-digit lead in the national surveys and state-by-state scenarios that could give him as many as 350 electoral votes. Unless McCain makes up ground quickly from either Wednesday's debate (unlikely but possible) or the simple force of gravity (Obama's outlandish lead comes back to earth), the Republican nominee will soon be facing a stark choice. Does he want to go out railing about Ayers and ACORN, or does he want to step back and play out his string as a principled conservative, the reputation he held before this down-and-dirty campaign?" At this point, it's anyone's guess.
by Sara Murray and Gerald F. Seib