6 p.m.: I don't know if I'll be able to keep this up with my copy editing duties and listening to the police scanner, but we'll give it a go. Please excuse the gaps...
6:01 p.m.: The format is novel. We'll actually get to hear them ask each other questions. Let's see where this one takes us.
6:05 p.m.: Already Obama's relating foreign policy to economic issues. He knows his strength is not foreign policy. It'll be a tug-of-war between Obama pulling this toward domestic issues and McCain staying on as foreign a turf as possible.
6:07 p.m.: McCain playing the empathy and bipartisan card — sticking to his campaign's narrative of a guy breaking bonds with his party.
6:11 p.m.: Both are sticking to generalities. Why did I expect more in the first few minutes?
6:12 p.m.: McCain should be reminded that greed is how unfettered capitalism works, not some strange abberation of the system.
6:13 p.m.: Obama — "day-in day-out responsibility" — what a concept.
6:16 p.m.: McCain makes a soft jab at Republicans in power becoming corrupted by it... wonder if that'll come back to bite him in a Saturday morning ad?
6:18 p.m.: And he takes a hard jab at Obama's "pork-barrel spending." McCain's best shot so far. But the night is young.
6:20 p.m.: Obama cuts across McCain and corrects him on the details of Obama's domestic spending proposals, and then brings it back to the original question, and then reframes his plans in terms of the Bush-McCain narrative. That's Debate 101.
6:24 p.m.: McCain goes into health care and the definition of "rich" — definite Obama strong suits.
6:26 p.m.: They're both accusing the other of lying. To each other's faces! CATFIGHT!
6:30 p.m.: McCain is hammering home the "fiscal conservative" theme, and even brought out the "most liberal voting record in the Senate" tag. And I thought we might avoid the culture wars this evening.
6:33 p.m.: Moderator Man steps in and tries to get a straight answer about how the financial crisis will affect their presidenital budget plans. And McCain offers and off-the-cuff "spending freeze" suggestion, and Obama pounces. Touche!
6:35 p.m.: Where did McCain get the Hillary Clinton reference from? Did he forget that Obama is no longer running against the Senator from New York?
6:37 p.m.: McCain claims socialized medicine is Obama's goal and substitutes his idea for ineffective tax breaks. The old socialist saw still has teeth.
6:40 p.m.: McCain lists the number of positions on which he has differed with President Bush (torture, tax cuts — positions which he has flip-flopped on since the primary election) and refers to himself as a maverick. In the same sentence! Someone at a college campus just had to pound two beers and a shot of Yukon Jack.
6:41 p.m.: How'd it take this long to touch on Iraq? We are still spending billions of dollars a month there, right?
6:46 p.m.: Obama calls McCain "wrong" about 49 times in 15 seconds.
6:49 p.m.: Nuance points to Obama — clarifying the voting record between him and McCain voting to fund or not fund the troops, and stating that the difference is in the strategy on timetables in Iraq not support of the troops.
6:51 p.m.: Moderator Man says "having resolved Iraq." I know it's in jest, but I still want to stick my hand in a toaster.
6:57 p.m.: Good foreign policy parry from McCain. This is, after all, his strength, and he sounds much more comfortable here than in the domestic arena. But Obama just zinged him by calling to mind his purported hot-temperedness after McCain called for restraint in dealing with Pakistan and other Mideast allies.
7:00 p.m.: McCain recalls his war service. Someone on a college campus just drained a tall boy of Bud Light.
7:01 p.m.: Deuling stories from parents with children in the armed forces overseas.
7:09 p.m.: This is what people wanted, an exchange showing clear differences between the approaches of Obama and McCain. There are differences in diplomacy styles, approaches to Pakistan in Iran, but, surprise, they're both in support of Israel. Never woulda guessed.
7:13 p.m.: Low blow. Obama calls out McCain on his Spain gaffe a week or two ago. Keep the gloves up, gentlemen.
7:14 p.m.: Equalizer. McCain calls Obama "naive" and his policies "dangerous."
7:18 p.m.: Obama again takes a hit, appearing less decisive and too Slick Willie-esque as McCain accuses him of "parsing words."
7:21 p.m.: McCain is hitting his stride — he's found the juvenation machine — and Obama's flagging after a strong start. This past 15 minutes is the best McCain has looked since his "the foundations of our economy are strong" comment two weeks ago.
7:26 p.m.: Obama brings it back to economic and domestic issues, a last chance to try to retain the high ground.
7:29 p.m.: Sept. 11 doesn't come up until the last minutes of the debate. Can you imagine how this could have been different if Rudy Giuliani was the GOP nominee?
7:32 p.m.: McCain hits the Iraq "victory" and "sacrifice" once more. And hits him for lack of experience. Then actually ties Obama's position to Bush's stubbornness and lack of flexibility. What planet am I on? (Hitting face repeatedly with keyboard).
7:38 p.m.: And that's a wrap, folks!
I score a victory for McCain thanks to a very strong second half after Obama clearly was stronger out of the gate, when the debate was focused on domestic policy. This bodes well for Obama in the long run, because the closing debate will be about domestic issues. However, expect the news today and the rest of the week regarding the debate to be slightly favoring McCain's performance. Obama showed up to play and made his positions clear and showed that he has a clear command of the material, but in the echo chamber to follow this weekend, McCain's "he doesn't understand" charge is likely to reverberate, even if Obama showed that he can stand up to the pressure.
The lack of true sparks was disappointing, as the pair looked too polished and stiff to really take advantages of the format's potential for a bare-knuckles verbal brawl. But there's nothing wrong with keeping things civilized (compared to all those sleazy TV ads).
Have fun with the weekend, all. I'm going to get back to work...