Who to believe?

  • Gavin Hewitt
  • 17 Oct 08, 08:22 AM GMT

LONDONDERRY, NEW HAMPSHIRE: All day, cable news has been asking 'who won the debate?' It eats up endless hours of airtime. It's a great question because there's no definitive answer. There was no knock-out blow, but circling Spin Alley in Long Island you pick up a few clues.

Barack Obama and John McCainDuring the first 45 minutes the Obama team was apparently edgy. And here's why.

McCain sharpened the distinction between himself and Barack Obama on tax and he had some good lines. He asked why at this time anyone would be thinking of raising taxes. Good blow.

He picked up that Barack Obama suggested "spreading the wealth around" to Joe the plumber. Good blow. Spreading the wealth around could sound like socialism.

Then McCain said the last president to raise taxes during a recession was Herbert Hoover and that ended with a depression. Another effective jab.

Certainly the McCain camp believed it was their best night of the debates and today John McCain re-worked the best lines of the debate on the campaign trail. His aides expect the polls to tighten over the next few days. Maybe.

In the latter half of the debate, Barack Obama did better. He was strong on health and his final statement was inspiring.

But here's a thought. Relatively few people weigh the facts. Many voters make up their minds on how they feel or how a candidate looks. A pollster once said to me, don't underestimate that people want to feel comfortable with the person in the White House. Every week the president is in their living rooms so likeability matters. And that was John McCain's dilemma. He needed to attack but the longer he went on the offensive, the more he risked alienating voters.

Barack Obama practised being at ease. When under attack he nearly always smiled. It seemed rather forced at times but that was the calculation that Obama would win if he appeared the nicer man.

Field with scarecrows and pumpkins for sale (photo taken by Ian Sherwood)

PS. On our way to the rally in Londonderry, we passed this field full of pumpkins in anticipation of Halloween.

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