John McCain did not have the debate he needed on Tuesday night.

McCain’s style was aggressive, disciplined and occasionally punchy. He heaped criticism on Barack Obama, blasting his record on taxes, health care and earmarks, and at one point derisively called the Democratic nominee “That One.” McCain made over 14 references to the candidates’ “records,” pleading with voters to put aside Obama’s words and inspect his history.

McCain’s policy rhetoric was populist, reformist and sometimes contrarian. He floated the name of Obama backer Warren Buffet as a potential Treasury Secretary, and pledged that his administration would swiftly “buy up” all “the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes.” (Obama’s rapid response team immediately noted that the bailout bill already includes “authority” for the Treasury to buy residential and commercial mortgages.) After all the audience questions and Brokaw quips piled up, however, McCain still failed to upend the narrative. It’s a major setback in a race that is trending towards Obama and running out of time.

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