Welcome to the presidential debate from Oxford, Miss. -- via WW world headquarters. We've got a full beer-fridge and a full house, including:
•Musician and political consultant Jake Oken-Berg
•Unemployed journalist Josh Gross
•WW managing news editor Henry Stern
•WW screen editor Aaron Mesh
•WW web editor Ian Gillingham
•and WW staff writer James Pitkin
Jim Lehrer's giving instructions to the crowd and talking about "natural tendencies." That means we're off.
7:38: Near-unanimous take in this room: McCain wins, on a range from "narrow" to "clear victory." Obama fumbled the opportunity to speak in certitudes, even when his views are nuanced. He falls back on his role as the constitutional-law professor and equivocates. Meanwhile, McCain goes on the attack at the close and clutches his heart. The Skipper vs. The Professor. Guess who wins every time.
7:37: Obama ends on the point that our standing in the world is weakened. He gives us no clear idea what he'll do about that.
7:35: McCain's closer is self-assured, a comforting grandfather. We want to sit in his lap, hug him and drink hot cocoa. In Phoenix.
7:34: How many times has McCain invoked Reagan? Three times at least. Bush? Zero.
7:32: The fear message here is coming from the Democrat, not the Republican. But "we have weakened our capacity?" Pretty weak. You have to start and end with a zinger, which Obama seems fundamentally unable to do.
7:27: And with a whimper, not a bang, this debate nears its end.
7:25: But seriously folks. This is enough to make Jeff Merkley put down his hot dog.
7:24: This Georgia discussion is substantive. We think Georgia should jump USC in the polls.
7:21: McCain out-wonks Obama by tying Georgia to a "political breakdown" in Ukraine. Or is it just paranoia?
7:19: Great, McCain can look into Putin's eyes and see his soul just like Bush can.
7:17: Mesh's analysis: in the dust-up that just occurred over whether to talk with Ahmadinejad or not (and at what level -- zzzzzzz), McCain got the better of Obama by far.
7:16: You can go to bed now, Henry. They've both bowed down to you. Sheesh.
7:14: McCain wants to make himself the ghost of Ronald Reagan, Obama wants to make him George Bush's best buddy. BTW, kudos to both candidates for pronouncing the name of Iran's leader correctly. Hell, I can't even spell it.
7:10: First one to call Henry Kissinger what he is - a war criminal - scores a point. As somebody much wiser than me once said, "Kissinger goes into his 've haf to pursue realpolitik' and everybody bows down to him as the oracle of wisdom. The guy has never been right about anything."
7:08: This portion of the debate brought to you by the Anti-Defamation League. Go Israel!
7:04: McCain proposing sanctions on Iran with a "League of Democracies?" Where was this idea in the runup to the Iraq invasion?
7:01: Great theater -- Obama looks directly at McCain when delivering his lines. And McCain won't look back. Does not bode well for McCain.
6:58: McCain's greatest hits from Kosovo to Beirut to point out he has a record on national security issues? Cool. Pandering by wearing a bracelet of a 22-year-old guy who died in Iraq? Not so cool, unless you're channeling the greatest hits of Richard Nixon. And now Obama has a bracelet too. Can we get past the jewelry?
6:52: Pakistan: Obama wants to be aggressive, McCain wants to be prudent. Smacks of Kennedy in 1960 as the Democrat trying to out-tough Nixon on foreign policy. Curious, that.
6:50:Whoops. Spill in the viewing room. Hang on.
6:45: Zing! Obama is consciously getting McCain riled up on his Iraq War statements. Will he explode?? "Two Fourths of July ago," McCain says. Is that half a July?
6:43: Obama goes on the attack. McCain smirks again and comes straight back, sniping Obama over his NATO oversight. WHA?
6:38: Softball alert! Lehrer tosses McCain a hanging pitch, comparing Iraq and Vietnam.
6:33: Spending freeze on everything but defense, vets' benefits and entitlements, McCain? Finally somebody said "Iraq." Point Obama, even if it took him 33 freaking minutes to say it.
6:28: Hey, I know the economy is crashing. But wasn't this debate supposed to be about foreign policy?
6:25: Hey John, while we're talking about wasteful spending, what about that Iraq War? But if Obama brings that up, we'll be in a North Vietnamese prison camp faster than you can say Hanoi Hannah.
6:22: Note the John McCain "listening smirk." And we've already counted one ill-placed giggle, one of McCain's most Bush-esque weaknesses.
6:21: McCain attempts to create a half-hour conversation on ear-marks -- in his big foreign-policy debate, a topic he requested.
6:18: Our crack team of analysts agrees that Obama missed a golden chance to talk about the cost of war in Iraq.
6:16: McCain continues to hammer away at the War on Earmarks. Now they're "a gateway drug."
6:13: Hank Stern notes that Lehrer's attempts to force the candidates to commit to the bailout plan is like an Orioles batter trying to hit a Tim Wakefield fastball.
6:11: Wait, Obama has a flag pin, McCain doesn't? And is it Confederate?
6:08: Lehrer tries to nail both down on what they think about "the plan" in Congress. Obama rightly points out there is no plan, then goes mealy-mouthed on specifics.
6:06: Obama starts aggressive, McCain comes across mellow, even weepy. Is he tearing up over his mention of an ailing Ted Kennedy, or over the financial meltdown?
6:02: Lehrer claims the topic of national security "by definition includes" the U.S. financial crisis. Shoe-horning at its finest.