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The Third US Presidential Debate - Live

Justin Webb | 01:38 UK time, Thursday, 16 October 2008

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK: Greetings from Hofstra University.

2058: The talk in the food tent is all about McCain and what he has to do. My friends, the answer is clear: be quite astoundingly nice! Be charming. Be witty. Be informed. Be just a little condescending in order to keep that theme alive. Be viable in other words. Be worth a second look ...

2105: John McCain sets out his economic plan with energy - but then rejects the opportunity to ask a question of his opponent and goes on the attack in what looks like a planned - almost memorized - speil about Joe the plumber and how Obama's tax plans penalise him. Obama is smooth in response.

2112: McCain comes back with the decent attack - class warfare, "spread the wealth around" is the phrase Obama used. Sounds like socialism. Redistribution. It's a draw so far - McCain is snappy, Obama is professorial.

2114: Already this is a far better debate - on tax policy there is a genuine difference and they engage it with vigour, not soundbites from the campaign. Joe the plumber started out odd but turned out to be a good line of attack for McCain.

2117: Yippee! Schieffer actually interrupted Obama to point out that he had to answer the question - not sure he did answer it but it was a brave effort. He did it again with McCain. He's already earned his 1000000000 billion dollar salary.

2120: McCain now does answer the question - a hatchet to the budget. Pressed: he will eliminate billions by stopping support for ethenol. Makes little sense, but at least he came up with a list of projects for the chop.

2122: Big McCain line - Senator Obama, I am not President Bush! If you wanted to run against President Bush you should have run four years ago!

2124: Obama has got a well rehearsed answer ready this time for the attack line that he has never stood up to his party - he comes out with a convincing-sounding list.

2130: Great question from Schieffer on the toughness of the campaign message - McCain says he regrets the negative aspects of both campaigns. But then launches an attack on Obama accusing him of leading the way in all of it. Good line on Obama's change of heart on accepting public funding. Obama seems rather unwilling to hit back - this is a strategy plainly - he turns it back to the economic crisis.

2134: Interesting this - McCain is playing the role of the injured party. Obama has been palling around with terrorists so much that they have infected his adverts.

2139: Now Senator McCain attacks on Bill Ayers and Acorn (the group accused of forging voter registrations). Obama defends himself in great detail - too much detail?

2141: McCain understands the dangers of this line and ends by suggesting that actually he is really campaigning on the economy. Unconvincing when he has just taken the subject off the economy.

2145: John McCain's suggestion that Sarah Palin is "a role model to women" is true in some respects, but to most American women I suspect she is something less than that.

2147: Obama is polite about Palin - McCain is aggressive about Biden. Again, McCain seems harsher, but is this not what debating is all about?

2148: Hilarious - Shieffer calls climate change "climate control!" He thinks the subject is air conditioning...

2153: Obama has a populist line on trade agreements that damage Americans - and McCain on drilling for oil off the coast of the US. McCain refuses to be thrown off the free trade and makes a pitch for a new one with Columbia. Dangerous ground. Who is this attracting? This cannot be the right approach for McCain in the debate.

2156: Do Obama's laughs work? He has several times appeared in the wide shot openly amused at McCain's attacks.

2159: Obama is measured and steady. McCain is cross (sometimes) amused (sometimes) upset (sometimes) - he is less steady. He suggests physical fitness as (part of) the solution to the health crisis - it sounds cheap.

2205: Big win for Obama on the subject of health - McCain asks him what he wants to fine Joe the Plumber if he doesn't provide health insurance and Obama replies: zero (small business people will not be fined, it seems). To real-life Joes, I suspect that the McCain line works when he talks about the increased costs of Obama's plan and the choices available under McCain - but for a wider worried public it cannot be convincing.

2211: At one stage McCain made a disparaging comment about the "English" health system. Fact: English people spend roughly half what Americans do (per capita) on health. Are they half as healthy? Half as free? "English" health has its problems, but is it so ghastly?

2216: On abortion, Obama has a chance to explain himself and does so with some vigour - he will not convince those who call him a baby killer (as a woman told me he was last week) but he looks much more comfortable than he did weeks ago at Saddleback Church.

2229: So John McCain has been angry - but not over-the-top angry. He didn't take my advice to shock everyone with sunny cheeriness. So does his performance change anything ...

Not really, I suspect. Again his closing statement is his biggest strength... though his hands (in the shot in the close up) look old - very old.


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