Tie goes to the runner

Neither candidate ran away with the debate, but Barack Obama still seemed to come away as a pretty clear winner.

Published October 8, 2008 2:53AM (EDT)

Before you all snap at me over the headline above, know this: I mean that tonight's debate was a tie only in the sense that neither candidate scored a knockout blow against his opponent, and neither made any fatal mistake -- or, really, even any sort of truly significant slip-up.

That said, though, I think it's pretty clear that Barack Obama came out of this one as the winner. He was in command throughout the debate. Moreover, he did exactly what he needed to do -- namely, appear presidential, while also coming off as someone voters can relate to and be comfortable with.

John McCain faced a tougher task. He needed -- and now, still needs -- to do something to stem the tide of voters rushing to Obama. He tried to do that tonight by attacking Obama, but for now, those attacks don't seem to have worked. (That's judging by my favorite CNN chart of real-time voter reactions; sometimes these kinds of voter groups don't reveal the way attacks play out in the long term.) If he's going to stay on the attack, he needs to be softer, and warmer, as he does so.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.