After a week dominated by the Wall Street crisis, the candidates met head to head for their first presidential debate. Here’s a roundup of reactions to the first John McCainBarack Obama debate.

Advantage: Experience – “Friday night in Oxford, Mississippi, moderator Jim Lehrer tried to force the men who would be president to confront how a costly bailout of America’s credit markets will constrain their grand plans for the next four years. That’s likely to be the shadow lingering over official Washington for much if not all of someone’s first term in the White House.

“If you saw the debate, you didn’t see Barack Obama or John McCain hit that question out of the park. You saw, instead, maddening exercises in small-ball. This nation’s debt is fast approaching $9.8 trillion—and any bailout likely will, in the short run, push that number into (gulp) the low 14 digits. You didn’t hear anybody acknowledge that Friday night.” — Chicago Tribune

The First Debate – “The debate was generally a relief from the campaign’s nastiness. Both John McCain and Barack Obama worked to strike a more civil and substantive tone. And Americans could see some differences between the candidates on correcting the regulatory disasters that led to the Wall Street crisis, on how to address the country’s grim fiscal problems and on national security. There were also differences in the candidates themselves. Mr. McCain fumbled his way through the economic portion of the debate, while Mr. Obama seemed clear and confident. Mr. McCain was more fluent on foreign affairs, and scored points by repeatedly calling Mr. Obama naïve and inexperienced.” — New York Times

Tie goes to Obama – “Obama and McCain looked like equals onstage. McCain turned in a marginally stronger performance, but Obama looked strong enough, and in a tough year for Republicans with Obama leading in the polls, that’s a victory for the Democrat. Obama did what he needed to do to convince people he could be commander in chief—his challenge for the night. McCain showed he could talk about the economy—his challenge—but not so brilliantly that he dented Obama’s advantage on the issue.” — John Dickerson, Slate

McCain wins round 1 – McCain “repeatedly put Barack Obama on the defensive throughout the 90 minutes session. Obama did little to ease voter concerns that he’s experienced enough to handle foreign and defense policy. That was his number one task Friday night and he failed.

“Instead he was often his old meandering self, unable to state a quick, forceful position. Polls taken in the coming days should show McCain holding on to his trump card in the race – the view that he’s better equipped to be commander in chief.” — David Yepsen, Des Moines Register

Barack Obama plays Mr. Nice Guy — and loses — in the first debate – “A few minutes after the debate between John McCain and Barack Obama ended here on the campus of the University of Mississippi, I asked close McCain adviser Charlie Black whether Obama had performed as McCain’s debate team had anticipated.

“No, no,” Black said emphatically. “I never expected Sen. Obama to spend the entire debate on the defensive, and he did. He did.”

“Maybe there was a tad of exaggeration in Black’s verdict, but there was some truth in it, too. Obama was smooth, unflappable, and just a little off balance for much of the evening. Worse for him, he seemed inexplicably eager to concede that McCain was right on issue after issue. A candidate determined to appear congenial might do that once, or even twice, but Obama did it eight times.” — Byron York, National Review

Peter Fray

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