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US rivals spar in first TV debate



John McCain and Barack Obama clashed over Iraq

TEXT COMMENTARY (all times CDT, GMT-5)
By Jude Sheerin

2248 That's all folks. The second debate is on 7 October in Tennessee, and the candidates will answer questions from undecided voters. The third debate, on 15 October in New York, will focus on domestic policy. We'll be covering both events live again, as well as Thursday's vice-presidential debate, and hope you can join us then.

Comment from blogger
Thomas Schaffer, Salon.com: By my informal count, at least six times McCain said Obama "doesn't understand" this or that. I find that condescending, but maybe it's working with swing voters. I dunno.

Comment from blogger
John B. Judis, The Plank Blog, The New Republic: Like Reagan in 1980, he had to reassure voters that he wouldn't bite them. In Obama's case, that mean assuring them he was not a black radical or Muslim and that he had a sufficient command of foreign policy to run the country. He did that. McCain, on the other hand, did reasonably well--he escaped the economic discussion unscathed and showed himself knowledgeable about foreign affairs--but he needed to show Obama up and he didn't. He did well, but not well enough to change the race. 

Comment from blogger
Hugh Hewitt, Town Hall: As expected, McCain shines and Obama is on the defensive throughout. The good news for Obama is that more than 30 minutes were not on the specifics of foreign policy. But Obama stumbled badly on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. McCain simply knows this stuff, and Obama again and again betrays that he does not.

Comment from blogger
Brian Montopoli, Horserace at CBS: Early Poll Results Suggest More Uncommitted Voters Saw Obama As Debate Winner 

2233 The BBC's James Reynolds in Beijing says China will have noted McCain's comment that the US owes China $500bn, but he says the Communist Party will be pleased China was barely mentioned in the debate on the whole as it doesn't appreciate other countries poking into its affairs.

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Melina Winterton, Virginia, United States Like the rest of his campaign, McCain is focused on trying to make Obama look bad instead of clearly stating his own positions and plans. Doesn't McCain have anything more substantial to add to this debate than his condescending fatherly attitude?

2230 The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Kabul says Hamid Karzai will take note of Obama's comment that he would insist on the Afghan president doing more to help stabilise his country.

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Renee, New York City This debate has clearly demonstrated that McCain has the knowledge and the experience while Obama continues to show naivete and arrogance

Comment from blogger
Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo: McCain didn't have any freak-out moments. But he did have that sneer and there did seem to be this thing where he was so contemptuous and angry at Obama that he couldn't get himself to make eye contact. I think we'll hear more about that.

2212 The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the initial reaction has been that the debate was a tie; McCain didn't do as well as he might have hoped on his strongest suit of foreign policy, she says, while Obama appeared hesitant at times.

2204 Obama's running mate Joe Biden is on TV saying John McCain was "on every single point mired in the past as he usually is… John was on his strongest turf tonight and he lost and I think it's going to be fatal."

Comment from blogger
Kos, Daily Kos: Obama fought back by speaking at length on every issue, aided by a format that allowed him to speak beyond 30 second sound bites, and he name dropped countries and foreign leaders by the bucketful, to underscore the fact that he knows what he's talking about. It was very effective.

2201 Now the spinning begins. Whichever candidate is rated to have won the debate in the immediate aftermath may not be the one America thinks came off best in a few days' time after the party attack machines have done their work. Al Gore was initially judged to have won his 2000 TV debate against Bush - until Republicans drew attention to his impatient sighing and eye rolling.


Comment from blogger
Jim Geraghty, National Review: The overall message of the night was clear - McCain is smart, familiar with the issues on a striking level of detail, knows what he wants to do: "I don't think I need any on the job training. I'm ready to go right now... I know how to deal with our adversaries, and I know how to deal with our friends."

2155 Many analysts reckon millions of independent voters, who account for up to a fifth of the electorate, will decide who to vote for based on the performance of the candidates in these debates. But one wonders how important they really are, given that in 2004 John Kerry was widely perceived to have won all three contests against George W Bush, but still lost the election.

2151 McCain once campaigned against Ultimate Fighting. While what we just witnessed wasn't quite the electoral equivalent of that human bloodsport-in-a-cage, it certainly had its moments. I can't immediately identify an obvious knockout blow or any 24-carat gotcha moments.

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FuzzMcFadden tweets:Obama just showed this country what diplomacy looks like, it's been a long time. Thank you.

2144 McCain had to convince voters tonight his presidency will not amount to four more years of President Bush (who is felt by many, in political terms, to be as bankrupt as Washington Mutual), while Obama had to prove to Americans he is not too much of an arriviste to be commander-in-chief. So, how did they do?

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Actiongrl tweets:You know what? That was a good debate. Interesting to watch the audience reactions live on screen. McCain clearly knows some stuff.

2139 A moment of amity as Obama shakes hands with McCain saying: "Good job, John, good job." McCain returns the congratulations. Obama strides up to wife Michelle, saying: "How you doing?" McCain embraces his wife Cindy, the candidates and spouses greet each other and disappear off the stage. It's over.

Justin Webb
2136 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Mr Obama seems to suggest that America is weaker everywhere - everywhere - because of Iraq. It's a telling point - he is much more successful when talking about the mistakes of the past than about the policies of the future. Mr McCain makes a direct attack on Mr Obama - he does not have the knowledge and experience. In a neat twist, he suggests Mr Obama is as stubborn as President Bush! This is a good line - I have met people who see Obama as another Bush - inexperienced and charming.

Boxing gloves
2136 On the attack, McCain: "I honestly don't believe Senator Obama has the knowledge or experience to lead… I don't need any on-the-job training". Obama chuckles. McCain tries to corner Obama into acknowledging the success of the surge, which he has already done in a media interview.

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Aimee, Paris Both candidates are now splitting hairs. And Senator McCain is over-using the words 'Senator Obama does not seem to understand'

2134 Obama: "We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because of viewing everything through this single lens (Iraq)". He pivots back to home issues by saying spending in Iraq means less for Americans on, say, healthcare.

Justin Webb
2133 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Mr McCain on the likelihood of an attack on the US: we are safer but a long way from safe. Mr Obama says the biggest threat is terrorists getting nuclear weapons. He also talks about restoring respect and gives credit to McCain on torture. With Mr McCain we are back to Senator Obama "not understanding" something. I think he has used that phrase, my friends, too many times...

2132 McCain: "Senator Obama still doesn't quite understand that if we fail in Iraq it would allow al-Qaeda to establish a base in Iraq and all American blood and treasure spilt there would be wasted."

2131 Obama: "Al-Qaeda now operating in 60 countries, we can't just be focused on Iraq... We must restore America's standing in the world, we are less respected than we were four years ago or even eight years ago."

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Thomas Deffinis, France I believe both of the candidates are quite the same. They do not pose the real questions, nor do they address the real issues and above all they are supported by the lobbies we all know about. They are all rhetoric and do not have real concrete personal ideas.

2129 Debate moderator: "Is another 9/11 attack on US soil possible?" McCain: "Much less likely now". McCain speaks against torture of prisoners. As a former POW, he has spoken out against any inhumane treatment of prisoners by the CIA.

2126 McCain pivots the discussion back to domestic issues, mentioning his support for offshore drilling (on which Obama has not been enthusiastic).

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Chhanda, Massachusetts, United States McCain is pretty shrewd. He points out the few weaknesses that Obama has, but his wealth of experience and his record points to his extreme age. He is alarmingly out of touch, and I doubt he'd see the end of one term. He thinks about everything in terms of Vietnam.

2125 Obama says over 26 years McCain voted three times against alternative energy, throwing back at him his "walk the walk, talk the talk" line.

Justin Webb
2124 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Mr Obama calls Ukraine "the Ukraine" - even the former mayor of Wasilla probably knows it hasn't been called that for some time...

2123 Obama says back in April he warned Bush administration that Russian peacekeepers were in Georgian territory and they should be replaced with international peacekeepers.

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boatbaby tweets:obama just spews disinformation... and mccain got obama on his cute little seal he has on his plane..go john.

2121 On Russia, McCain repeats his well-worn joke that he looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and saw three letters K-G-B.

Justin Webb
2118 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Great McCain line: "So we sit down with Iran and they say they'll wipe Israel off the face of the map and we say "no you won't" The first time in the debate that Mr Obama looks discomfited and annoyed

Justin Webb
2116 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Here is another thing that Senator Obama "does not seem to understand", according to Mr McCain: - something to do with talking to ones enemies. Mr Obama hit him with the suggestion that he has refused to speak to the prime minister of Spain - making Mr McCain look angry and silly is a good tactic, though he has failed to use it to much effect

Comment from blogger
Katharine Q. Seelye, NYT, The Caucus: Mr. McCain keeps tossing out critiques of Mr. Obama, trying to control the conversation and keep him coming back to answer his points; Mr. Obama still manages to make some of his own.

2115 McCain says when you are prepared to sit down with someone [Ahmadinejad] who has called Israel a "stinking corpse" you legitimise those remarks and "it's dangerous".

Justin Webb
2115 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: On talking to enemies it's a tie - Mr McCain doesn't rule it out and Obama doesn't rule it in.

2114 Obama points out that McCain recently said he wouldn't even meet with prime minister of Spain, appearing to confuse him with someone else.

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illuminesce tweets:Achmedenanenajhad. Good job, McCain.

2112 McCain says Obama is naive for proposing to meet Iran leaders "without preconditions". Obama hits back saying Henry Kissinger, one of McCain's own advisors, backs direct talks with Iran without preconditions.

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fantasticrelish tweets:Obama is totally reminding me of Kennedy right now.

2110 An embarrassing (almost Bush-like?) garble there from McCain on the name of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Justin Webb
2109 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Oops - Mr Obama is defending some senate measure again - it sounds silly and defensive.

2108 Obama: "Nuclear Iran would be a game changer, threaten Israel and spark Middle East arms race." He repeats his call for tough direct diplomacy with Iran.

Justin Webb
2106 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Iran now. To bomb or not to bomb. Mr McCain is talking about his League of Democracies - taking on the world. Would it involve Venezuela? Singapore? Georgia? Russia? (only kidding). Of course, the moderator doesn't ask - that would be rude...

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David Otte, Wyoming, United States Seems to be a little more confrontation between the two when it comes to Iraq. Obama does a much better job at defending his votes in the Senate and pointing out that McCain likes to fabricate views of not supporting the troops. Well done Obama, well done.

2105 McCain: "Nuclear Iran poses existential threat to Israel and we cannot afford a second Holocaust." Readers may recall that while campaigning last year McCain sang "Bomb Iran" to the tune of the The Beach Boys' Barbara Ann.

Boxing gloves
2103 Another flashpoint as Obama says McCain claimed we can "muddle through" in Afghanistan. McCain hits back that one might have thought Obama would have visited Afghanistan earlier.

Justin Webb
2102 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Mr McCain has a slightly patronising tone - I don't think Senator Obama understands etc. Could this work for an older man?

2101 McCain: "I know what it's like when as army is defeated." Showing his experience by referring to his Vietnam service. It turns out both candidates are wearing bracelets belonging to US soldiers who died in Iraq.

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bruceki tweets: Jim Lehrer should cut McCain off, and let Obama speak.

2100 McCain is claiming a long record of making the "right" judgment, against the political current as when he opposed Ronald Reagan's early 1980s deployment of US Marines to Lebanon, where more than 200 of them died in a bombing.

Justin Webb
2057 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Mr Obama hits a good one suggesting that he won't take lectures on saying unwise things from someone who has sung songs about bombing Iran.

2058 Obama says he said if US has top level al-Qaeda lieutenants in its sights in Pakistan it has to be prepared to take them out if Islamabad won't take action.

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annekate tweets: McCain is surprisingly coherent tonight. Not nearly the shut out I thought it would be.

2055 On Pakistan, McCain says "if you're going to aim a gun at somebody you better be prepared to pull the trigger". Says Obama threatened to attack Pakistan and this was not the right thing to do.

Justin Webb
2053 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Victories: Mr McCain has only said "my friends" once (I think) and Mr Obama has not ummed and arred as much as he sometimes does.

2053 Obama says commanders in Afghanistan say they don't have enough troops as too many soldiers are in Iraq. The terrorists who attacked US on 9/11 came from Afghanistan so having four times more troops in Iraq is a "strategic mistake", Obama says.

Comment from blogger
Michael Graham, The Corner: It seems to me that John McCain is spending quite a bit of time talking about who he is… rather than either giving specifics that show the work he's done; or even better, laying out what specifically he would do in the future to make life better. Both candidates are underwhelming thus far.

Justin Webb
2051 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: On Iraq, Mr Obama makes the case against the war with elegance, but it's an old case against a decision that is gone and finished. Mr McCain equally elegantly suggests that the issue is how to get out now. On that they neither of them sound so convincing. Mr Obama is listing the points on which Mr McCain was wrong. Does this damage him? I suspect not - you can be wrong but of good character. You can be wrong in the past but right on the future. Mr Obama is making a mistake by getting into petty fights about Senate votes: "I voted for this but against that" etc.

2050 Heated exchange as McCain claims US generals believe Obama's plan would spell danger for Iraq. "Not true, not true," interrupts Obama.

Boxing gloves
2048 They are really going at each other as McCain repeats the Republican allegation Obama voted against funds for US troops. FYI: The Washington Post ruled this claim was "misleading". Its Fact Checker says Obama voted against the bill alluded to because it did not include a timetable to start bringing US troops home from Iraq.

2046 Obama says: "John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007." Says McCain was wrong on WMD, and that US troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq. McCain: "Senator Obama doesn't understand difference between a tactic and a strategy."

2044 Obama says cost of Iraq is nearly a trillion dollars, 4,000 lives, 30,000 wounded and al-Qaeda is stonger than at any times since 2001. "We took our eye off the ball," Obama says.

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jaxtechnomom tweets: obama just promised tax cut for all, energy affordable college, healthcare, expand NASA, & rebuild roads & bridges? In 1 breath?really?

2043 Obama says the first question on Iraq is whether they should have gone to war, he points out he opposed it six years ago at huge political risk to himself and says US hadn't finished the job in Afghanistan and caught Bin Laden when it went to war with Iraq.

Justin Webb
2042 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Now Mr Obama is on the attack with the idea that Mr McCain is a Bush clone and must take responsibility for the Bush years. Mr McCain parries successfully with the fact - and it is a fact - that he and the president have not seen eye to eye on some pretty important questions. Stale. Boring.

Boxing gloves
2041 McCain says Obama waved the white flag on Iraq by opposing the troop surge, which McCain championed at huge political risk. He is trying to show Obama lacks judgment and is not ready to lead America in its hour of peril.

Boxing gloves
2039 Another clash as Obama refers to Bush's "orgy of spending". He tries to hang McCain's congressional voting record, which he claims has been with Bush 90% of the time, as a political albatross around his opponent's neck and saying it proves he cannot bring change to Washington.

Comment from blogger
Ben Smith, Politico.com: One technological difference here: Only the McCain campaign has young supporters delivering photocopied response points to reporters who are universally on laptops and email in the file center. Obama's all digital.

2037 McCain says Obama's healthcare plan would hand US health system to federal government, repeat of his campaign's attack that Obama's health plan would be government mandated, although Obama campaign insist it's market based.

Justin Webb
2036 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: The questioning is limp, pathetic even. How America misses a John Humphrys or a David Dimbleby - someone who stips out this time-consuming nonsense.

Boxing gloves
2035 McCain boldly pledges a spending freeze on everything except defence. Obama says "you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel." Obama decries US deficit spending in Iraq, while that country stockpiles oil surplus cash.

Justin Webb
2034 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: McCain is talking now about the money he saved the taxpayer - people went to federal prison he says. Spenders will be scruubbed - eliminated!

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GMC Arder, Belfast, Northern Ireland They're boring already...and we have to put up with one of them for at least the next four years...God...help the "world" And just a pointer, can I apply for President? Because I've got a pen...too!

2033 Obama says he is accused of being "wildly liberal" but that is just him opposing Bush.

2032 McCain says they must end cost over-runs on swollen defence projects and examine all agencies of government and "eliminate" those not cutting the mustard.

Justin Webb
2031 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: This is a huge disappointment - set piece memorised stuff from both candidates. Nothing revealed about either of them: Obama wants college for everyone in the US - gosh again.

2030 Jim Lehrer asks candidates: "What are you going to adjust in your spending plans to accommodate the Wall Street rescue plan?" Obama pledges to free the US from dependency on Middle East oil by investing in clean energy, healthcare, education and infrastructure. Has he answered the question?

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cbracy tweets: Obama going after McCain directly now. Seeming to get into a groove.

2026 McCain: "Classic example of walking the walk and talking the talk." He says he voted against an energy bill "festooned with Christmas ornaments" and breaks for oil firms which he says Obama voted for. Claims Obama voted to hike taxes on those who make as little as $40,000 a year. "Not true," says Obama.

2025 McCain says a lot of people might be interested in Obama's definition of rich. Obama says he will ensure people who make less than $250,000 a year will see no tax increase, he is giving McCain the laser eyes.

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outbox tweets: John McCain: "I don't mean to go back and forth" -- Dude, it's a debate, that's what you do.

2022 Obama hammers away again saying President McCain equals another four years of Bush. McCain says he wants to cut business tax so firms stay in America.

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Mahabala Shetty, San Diego, United States McCain was trying to run away from the whole idea of facing Obama citing economic crisis as the reason to go to Washington for cover and face the camera as one observer pointed it out. Obama is going to have a easy task to convince the Americans to elect him over McCain.

2020 McCain says Capitol Hill has "got to be cleaned up" "I was called the sheriff" "I'm no Miss Congeniality"

Justin Webb
2020 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Mr McCain looks highly prepared - the attack on Mr Obama on earmarks had a nice line or two but I am sure I have heard some before.

2019 Obama agrees that earmarks are wrong, says McCain proposes $300bn in tax cuts to the country's wealthiest people in the country, Obama promises tax cuts for 95% of working families.

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Craig Lea, Glasgow, UK Barack Obama's enthusiasm and charisma will be no match for tortoise John Mccain in today's American media culture - the republicans don't stand a chance.

Justin Webb
2017 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: McCain has a fundamental belief in America - gosh. This would be laughed at in any other western nation as a gambit in a serious debate.

2016 McCain says spending in Washington is out of control, trying to separate himself from eight years of Bush. He says he will veto all pork barrel spending. Says Obama asked for $932m of wasteful federal spending.

Justin Webb
2015 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Mr McCain's line on holding people accountable was sharp - Mr Obama agreed but then got academic and windy.

2014 McCain praises the qualities of the American worker, he says "our best days are still ahead of us". Both candidates are trying to show they feel the pain of cash-strapped Joe Six Pack.

2012 Obama says "for years the reigning economic ideology has been what's good for Wall Street, not what's good for Main Street". Obama revives McCain's much-derided recent statement that the fundamentals of the American economy are sound.

2011 McCain starts by saying he feels bad about Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy being back in hospital, and says he is pleased blues and reds are reaching across the aisles to sort out the financial morass. He says this will be the "end of the beginning" of the crisis if they can cut a deal.

Justin Webb
2010 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: When McCain said "I havent been feeling too good recently" it certainly got my attention - but he meant about the country.

2009 The two rivals are now vying to be the tough new sheriff of Wall Street.

Justin Webb
2007 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Barack Obama moves quickly onto the attack - the suggestion that Mccain backed the kind of deregulation that led to the crisis.

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TarotByArwen tweets: Can't remember when I've been this excited about a debate. McCain & Obama should be fun.

2006 Obama says we're involved in two wars and worst financial morass since the Depression. He says there needs to be enough safeguards in any Wall Street bailout to protect taxpayers on Main Street. As expected Obama is trying to link McCain early and often to President Bush and tar his opponent as a deregulator.

2004 Ding, ding, round one. Where do you stand on financial recovery plan?

1959 McCain has reportedly hired a top debating coach who advised him he had his worst debates in the Republican primaries while seated - the format for the third presidential debate next month. McCain has also reportedly been advised to avoid overusing the phrase: "My friends."

1957 In the nearest thing to a presidential debate so far, at a Californian megachurch, McCain is widely perceived to have bested Obama with a straight answer to a question linked to abortion, on which the Democrat was said to have waffled.

Justin Webb
1955 BBC North America editor Justin Webb: The best thing about this debate is its open format. I expect McCain to win in the sense of connecting with America. He needs to use humour to leap artfully over the nonsense of the last few days...

1953 If you've been following this from the start, we've just put up live streamed video from the debating hall, and you can find it if you refresh your page.

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Shaun, Shanghai, China I would like to hear some strategy and solid actions to restore some confidence in the US. We need to hear comments on financial responsibility and regulation as well as foreign policy.

1947 A body language expert told me earlier this year McCain blinks too much when nervous. But he can be quick on his feet in debates and engage an audience with folksy humour. Having said that, satirical US news website The Onion said the other day McCain had a "creepy smile". Struck me as a little harsh.

Comment from blogger
Paul Volpe, The Washington Post: Expect McCain to draw heavily on his experiences over the last few days in tonight's debate, casting himself as someone willing to put aside partisanship for the good of the country and Obama as nothing more than a partisan warrior.

1946 Analysts are saying Obama must avoid coming across as too much like the law professor he once was. He can exude an almost Zen-like calm, though at times during debates with Hillary Clinton he is said to have appeared testy. Obama's cool manner is an asset but he will hope to avoid seeming passionless.

1942 In the blue corner we will have Barack Obama. In the red corner, John McCain. I'm picturing the Democrat as a debating gentleman pugilist, an elegant southpaw, and McCain as more of a scrappy slugger, hurling polemical haymakers. To pummel the boxing metaphor, neither wants to be shown up as a lightweight.

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Joe Akinmusuru, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States This debate is crucial. McCain may be temperamental and shoot off an unguarded comment which can be a winner for him or may confirm his recklessness. Obama on the other hand is noted for being 'cool'. This could come out positive as he may appear unruffled and level-headed, a needed recipe for a multitasking president.

1934 These presidential telly debates have helped pick a winner ever since a youthful and composed John F Kennedy saw off an unshaven, sweaty Richard Nixon in 1960. Will a young pretender cause another upset tonight for an older rival?

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nodder75 tweets: I compare Obama to Pinnochio Every time he misleads the american public his ears grow. Watch his ears tonight.

1929 The University of Mississippi, where tonight's debate takes place, became the focus of world attention in 1962 when segregationists rioted in a failed attempt to stop a black student attending the institution. Welcoming a black presidential candidate here this evening, times have certainly changed.

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AJUS08 tweets: It will be interesting to see how John McCain positions his decision to suspend his campaign to help with bail-out negotiations.

1923 So, McCain is going to turn up after all. A no-show would have angered many in this Republican state and could have backfired spectacularly, gifting Obama a 90-minute national TV platform. But will some voters feel like McCain had to be dragged here kicking and screaming, even though he insists he was trying to help save Wall Street from a financial Gotterdammerung?

1915 This is going to be a running commentary on the first US presidential debate between Republican candidate John McCain and his Democratic opponent Barack Obama, including insights from BBC North America editor Justin Webb, as well as a selection of your e-mails and the best of the blogs. You can send your e-mails here.




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