McCain and Obama in tense final debate

The candidates sparred over the tone of their campaigns


By Jude Sheerin

2330 So, the 19-month frat-boy hazing ritual that is the White House race now has just 20 days left to run for these two candidates. The BBC will be following them every step of the way until one wins the keys to the White House. We will launch the mother-of-all live blogging events on election day and hope you can join us then. It will surely be an edge-of-the-seat finale to this fascinating campaign.

Gavin Hewitt
The BBC's Gavin Hewitt, in Detroit: John McCain was the more aggressive in this final debate but he probably didn't change the dynamics of the election. What he did do was to sharpen the distinction between himself and Barack Obama.

Matthew Price
The BBC's Matthew Price, in Philadelphia: As for who won, the answer here in Pennsylvania looks like it's about to be the Phillies. Before the debate, we circled a few bars which had shown the first debates. The screens were focused on the Phillies-Dodgers baseball game instead.

2316 General agreement from pundits so far that this was McCain's best performance out of all the debates. However, the Arizona senator could have done with plucking a very big rabbit out of a leprechaun-sized hat tonight. But he didn't.

e-mail sent in by reader
Philip Blackman, Hong Kong I think the debate was fairly even. But what America needs is different to what America wants. I believe the majority wants a gung-ho Republican maverick that talks more then he walks because it makes them feel more patriotic and secure. What they need is much different, the opposite in fact.

comment from blogger
Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times blog, The Caucus:Looks like The Associated Press reached Joe the Plumber, er, Joe Wurzelbacher, who lives near Toledo, Ohio. He did not say who he was voting for, but did say he was surprised that he was called "Joe the Plumber" repeatedly during the debate. "It's pretty surreal, man, my name being mentioned in a presidential campaign," he is quoted as saying.

2306 Most polls seem to indicate Obama came off better in their previous two contests. So, after tonight, is it three-in-a-row for Obama? Three strikes and out for McCain?

2304 CNN says a sample of debate watchers - made up of 40% Democrats and 30% Republicans - says Obama won the debate: by 58% to 31% for McCain.

2301 Hillary Clinton tells CNN she is confident Obama would further all the issues she has fought for all her life. Asked if she would join an Obama cabinet, Clinton says she is committed to being a New York senator and would want to continue in that role.

comment from blogger
Erick Erickson, RedState:Tonight we finally saw what so many of us have been waiting for. John McCain mopped the floor with Barack Obama. Throughout the night, Barack Obama looked distant, like he did not want to be there, like he was annoyed. He really looked annoyed all night. McCain on the other hand looked like the comeback kid — the guy who knew he had to do well. And he did.

comment from blogger
Ezra Klein, The American Prospect:Debate over. McCain scored the most points, and lost the debate. He was looking to land shots, and at times, succeeded. But the effort to find openings and vulnerabilities left him with little time to appear presidential. And if he connected with jabs, he never found his knockout blow.

2258 The McCain campaign's tactics from here on in will surely continue to involve portraying Obama as smug and "measuring the drapes" for the Oval Office.

comment from blogger
Michelle Malkin:Well, was that enough, folks? What do you think? I think it's the best we can expect McCain to have done.

MelonCamp tweets: I feel like I can vote for McCain with more confidence now after this debate.

2252 Will McCain's negative attacks tonight turn off voters, giving the impression he is more interested in Punch 'n' Judy politics than solving their financial worries? His negative attacks have so far apparently failed to gain much traction, possibly because so many Americans are preoccupied with the economic tailspin.

2250 That was in my opinion the best debate so far, I thought the previous two were a bit boring in comparison.

comment from blogger
Joshua Marshall, Talking Points Memo I've been thinking about this and we're pulling the video. But the part of the debate where Sen. McCain seemed to mock the issue of a woman's health was weird and ... well, kind of disgusting. It's hard for me to see how's he seriously pushing for the women's vote.

2246 Who could have predicted that the CEOs of oil firms and Wall Street would have replaced Osama Bin Laden and his pals as this US election's bugaboos? If the Saudi militant watched tonight's debate in a cave somewhere, he will perhaps rue the fact he didn't instead get a job at Lehman Brothers.

brainscramble tweets: McCain was very clearly on the defense. Nice to see him so strong, but unfortunate (for him) that he's in this position.

2243 Obama has kept his head down again and played it safe. He managed to avoid letting himself be dragged into an alley fist-fight by McCain; the Democrat strived to rise above the personal attacks, focus on the "issues that matter" and project an aura of calm leadership.

comment from blogger
Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times blog, The Caucus:Mr. Obama's mode in this debate has been to try to smooth things over…This makes it harder for him to draw bright lines of distinction with his opponent.

e-mail sent in by reader
Ruth Eisenbud, Cambridge, United States McCain seems to think that eloquence is a fault. Eloquence when it is supported by intelligence and reason, as is the case with Obama is a plus that is sorely needed by an American president.

2238 McCain didn't really try any jokes tonight. Perhaps he thought better of it after the eerie silence which greeted his attempts at wisecracks during the last debate.

2236 The BBC's Katty Kay says she thinks the final debate was a draw - and that perhaps what happens in the markets in the morning might ultimately matter more.

2234 So it's over - and as the clock swung inexorably towards full-time, McCain seemed to be praying for a "Hail Mary", the American football term for a last-ditch forward pass, while Obama stubbornly held on to the ball, concentrating on not dropping it.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

2233 The two candidates are joined on stage by their wives, this time wearing dresses in their respective party colours. They shake hands and then go separate ways to meet people in the audience.

comment from blogger
Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review blog, The Corner A couple folks here have been saying that McCain is doing better than in the previous two debates. I wish it were true, but I just don't see it. I think a few times McCain has come across as spluttering.

2231 Obama promises he will work tirelessly for you and your children.

2230 Obama seems to almost echo Reagan's line in the TV debate against Carter in 1980 when he asked voters: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" Obama says we must invest in American people again.

2229 Obama says we can't adopt same failed policies of last eight years and somehow expect a different result.

2229 McCain says it comes down to whether voters can trust us to be careful stewards of your taxpayer dollars. Says he is one of a long line of McCains who have served America in war and peace.

2228 McCain gives the spiel about US needing a new direction and how he has a record as a reformer.

2227 Closing statements now with a coin toss, McCain goes first!

2226 Talking about education system in Washington DC. A bit parochial.

magnifying glass
The Washington Post Fact Checker comments: Obama gave a list of issues where he has differed with members of his own party and Democratic-leaning interests: on tort reform, on charter schools and teacher pay, and on "clean coal" technology. But on the latter two of these issues he somewhat overstated the extent of his break with his party.

2224 McCain drums home his parental choice scheme, which he knows must appeal to upwardly mobile families in down-at-heel neighbourhoods.

annenb tweets: Is it just me or does Obama seem patient and reasonable, while McCain seems snarky and petulant?

2223 Obama says he is opposed to McCain's school-switching voucher plan.

Klondike tweets: This debate has been very real. I've really enjoyed it. I really don't know what the snap polls will say, but my hunch still says Obama.

2220 McCain says education is "civil rights issue of 21st Century", he supports school choice and parents' rights to switch their child out of a failing school to a successful school. Obama, possibly because of his teacher union support, is reportedly not in favour of this idea.

e-mail sent in by reader
Baerbel Merrill, Gillette, United States Senator McCain states that Sarah Palin is a role model for women in the US. Well, not this woman. I want my daughter to have all the education in school, which includes sex education, I want her to be a woman in her own right and know how to protect herself and say NO. I do not believe in shooting wolves from airplanes. I also believe that you should be able to name at least a couple of magazines you read.

2219 Obama says we need more investment, we must recruit an army of new teachers, we must make college affordable, that's why he proposed a $4,000 tuition credit. Also says parents also must show more responsibility, turn off TV and put away video games.

TallyWilgis tweets: Obama is fading against the ropes... McCain is getting a clear win right now.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

comment from blogger
Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic: When was the last time we heard a good abortion discussion? I like it. This stuff says a lot about these candidates' underlying character and philosophies.

2216 Last question on education, why does US trail other parts of the world in education system standards?

2216 Obama says "no one is pro-abortion, it's always a tragic situation". McCain says he and his wife Cindy are adoptive parents but will always protect the rights of the unborn.

PureFLCL tweets: McCain is on a mission of discrediting it is failing poorly - he keeps attacking a voting record that Obama keeps correcting him on

2213 Obama says McCain's claim is "incredible" and "not true". PS: McCain has not always been so staunchly pro-life as he appears tonight.

boxing glove
2212 New attack by McCain, he repeats Palin's claim that Obama supported the witholding of treatment to children born alive after abortions while an Illinois state senator. Fact checkers will quibble over this claim, but it will electrify the Republican base.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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?

davidwooten tweets: The Supreme Court is one of the most valid reasons to vote for McCain.

2211 Obama says McCain and he disagreed on a recent Supreme Court case where a woman sought equal pay. McCain opposed her case, Obama says.

2210 Obama says he believes Roe v Wade was decided rightly, he believes women, in consultation with doctors, families, religious advisers, are best placed to make the decision on their own pregnancy.

zhamed tweets: I'm coming to think McCain's started fairly good, but now is just going into angry old man mode. Obama was consistently good.

comment from blogger
Athena Jones, NBC's First Read blog: McCain is fiery. Obama is chuckling a bit, like just now when McCain suggested he was an "extreme environmentalist." The good thing is they don't seem to be on their usual talking points and stump stuff. This is by far the most interesting, most energized of the debates.

2207 Here we go, culture warfare's casus belli, abortion, is out of the bag. Question: Will you appoint Supreme Court judges to tinker with Roe v Wade?

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

2206 Obama hammers away again that people will lose employer-based healthcare under McCain and says US Chamber of Commerce agrees.

comment from blogger
damonbeau tweets on Washington Post blog, The Fix: Joe the Plumber is officially SNL material now. Threshold reached" WELL SAID.

2205 McCain garbles and calls Obama "Senator Government".

2204 Joe the plumber from Ohio must be proud as punch, he's had about 20 name checks so far!

2203 Obama says McCain's secret is that employers won't be able to afford healthcare for staff anymore under President McCain as he plans to tax healthcare benefits. Fact checkers will quibble over this claim.

e-mail sent in by reader
Paula, South Carolina, United States I'm glad Senator McCain is proud of Governor Palin. However, among the many achievements the senator listed, he forgot to tell us about her foreign policy experience with Russia. I wonder why since he bragged about it not long ago.

2201 McCain suggests Obama will fine small businesses who don't provide healthcare for employees. Obama denies it. Small firms will be exempt, he says.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

2200 McCain switches from snarling to his best "feeling your pain" voice as he discusses healthcare. Rails against scourge of obesity. That's not a major political issue, as far as I'm aware, in this election.

2158 The byzantine labyrinth of US healthcare funding is so fiendishly complex, voters probably won't even bother to venture beyond the candidates' thicket of figures.

comment from blogger
Think Progress blog: McCain said that if we start drilling offshore now it will lower the price of a barrel of oil. But his top economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, admitted in June that "new offshore drilling would have no immediate effect on supplies or prices." (UPDATE: The Energy Information Administration says expanded drilling "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.")

2157 Onto healthcare now, Obama says the stories he hears on the stump would break your heart over and over again.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Do Obama's laughs work? He has several times appeared in the wide shot openly amused at McCain's attacks.

boxing glove
2156 McCain attacks again, says Obama doesn't want free trade agreement with "our best ally in the region" (Colombia), but wants to sit down without preconditions with leftist bogeyman Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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 Colombia. Dangerous ground. Who is this attracting? This cannot be the right approach for McCain in the debate.

e-mail sent in by reader
Bekele Woyecha, Swansea, United Kingdom The debate is as tense as I expected. Yet, It is more transparent than the previous ones. There have also been questions which matter to the electorate and to those who are watching the debate. I have also liked the way it is being moderated.

2155 Obama says he is in favour of free trade although he made tub-thumping populist attacks on NAFTA (trilateral free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico) during the Democratic primaries.

LanceUlanoff tweets: McCain: "I admire his eloquence, but you have to pay attention to words" McCain will declare a war on words.

2153 McCain says Obama has never travelled to South America and suggests he doesn't understand the region so shouldn't make sweeping statements on free trade agreements with Latin American nations.

2152 McCain says ironically he admires so much Obama's eloquence, says Obama wants to "look at" offshore drilling. We need to do more than that, he says.

2150 Obama also neatly sidesteps the question and says he thinks we should go for offshore drilling, something he has been lukewarm on before, says focus on his energy plan is alternative energy.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Hilarious - Shieffer calls climate change "climate control!" He thinks the subject is air conditioning...

magnifying glass comments: McCain cites Palin's efforts to erect a pipeline to bring energy to the lower 48 states. That project exists on paper only, and Palin has actually opposed another plan to bring Alaska's natural gas to the rest of the country.

2149 McCain bangs on about his plans for clean coal technology, in seven, eight, 10 years we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil, he says. Question not answered.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Obama is polite about Palin - McCain is aggressive about Biden. Again, McCain seems harsher, but is this not what debating is all about?

e-mail sent in by reader
Joe Akinmusuru, Michigan, United StatesWell, so the Bill Ayers' issue has been eloquently been put to rest! Too bad, John, you couldn't trip Barack on that one. Good try, but pick another subject.

2147 Next question: How much can we reduce our dependence on foreign oil - in figures - during your first term?

comment from blogger
Joshua Marshall, Talking Points Memo: I will say this: So far I think Bob Schieffer's doing a pretty good job, simply because he's actually gotten these two guys debating. That's great. Put them together and let them argue.

2146 McCain points out that Joe Biden voted against the first Gulf War to remove Saddam from Kuwait and proposed a now-discredited plan to split up Iraq. He pivots back to attacking Obama as a big spender.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

2145 Obama asked if he thinks Palin is ready to be president. He diplomatically says she is an able politician, but it's up to the American people.

comment from blogger
Erick Erickson, RedState: Obama is lying. No one said "Kill him" about Obama at a Palin event. That is a bold faced lie. As Patterico notes the comment was made about Bill Ayers, not Barack Obama. Obama flat out lied.

2143 McCain says Sarah Palin is a role model to women and a reformer through-and-through, who has given money back to taxpayers, trimmed government and faced down oil firms.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: McCain understands the dangers of his previous 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.

2142 As expected, Obama praises Joe Biden's record and experience.

2141 Next question: Your running mate versus his running mate.

boxing glove
2140 McCain renews the attack saying Obama launched his political campaign in Ayers' living room. Absolutely not true, Obama retorts. Obama laughs grimly as McCain says his campaign is about getting economy back on track.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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?

e-mail sent in by reader
Maureen, Florida, United States I am so glad Obama is bringing up the "angry mob with pitch forks and torches" Sarah Palin is creating.

2138 Obama retorts that he was a child when Ayers carried out "despicable acts" as a member of the radical Weathermen group. He says he has denounced Ayers' views. Says they both worked on the same charity foundations in Chicago. Ayers is not his supporter or friend, he says.

e-mail sent in by reader
Chris Modd, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom So far I think McCain is doing a strong job and slightly dominating Obama. Though I don't want to sound to cynical and say it's easy for them to make promises at the moment. I was interested that both acknowledged that they must cut spending / bring down the deficit.

boxing glove
2136 Massive attack! McCain raises "washed-up old terrorist" Bill Ayers and tries to tie Obama to an alleged large-scale voter fraud by a left-wing group, the Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now (Acorn), reportedly linked to the Democratic nominee during his days as a Chicago community organiser.

magnifying glass
John McCain denied the charge that 100% of his adverts were negative. But the non-partisan Wisconsin Advertising Project says that "during the week of September 28-October 4, nearly 100% of the McCain campaign's advertisements were negative. During the same period, 34% of the Obama campaign's ads were negative.

boxing glove
2134 A new attack: McCain says most people at his rallies are decent and he won't stand for anyone saying any different. There's lots of things yelled at your rallies that I'm not happy about either, he says to Obama.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

2133 Obama says American people sick of tit-for-tat.

comment from blogger
Steve Benen, The Washington Monthly blog: It's not about "hurt feelings." Puts Obama in a position of strength.

boxing glove
2132 McCain notes that Obama hasn't repudiated Congressman Lewis' criticisms. Obama hits back that people were yelling "terrorist" and "kill him" when Obama's name came up at Palin rallies.

e-mail sent in by reader
John Walker, NE Indiana, United States McCain works too hard at proving his point of experience. We need to hear what he's going to do - not so much of what he did.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

2131 McCain says Obama is running misleading ads on McCain's healthcare proposals, which many fact checkers agree with.

2129 Obama says 100% of McCain's ads have been negative and says American people are not interested in "our hurt feelings", more interested in how to make ends meet.

SCSpartan tweets: Good. McCain is talking about how he has taken the blame for loose cannon Republicans, and how Obama hasn't.

boxing glove
2128 Renewed offensive from McCain - he says Obama has spent more on negative campaigns than any candidate in history and he can prove it.

2127 McCain says he regrets negative aspects of the campaign. Says he was hurt by Congressman John Lewis' claims that McCain's campaign was divisive and racially-charged.

e-mail sent in by reader
Anna Waters, Old Greenwich, United States Quite a blow from McCain "If you wanted to run against Bush you should have done four years ago!!"

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

2126 Next question: Will you say to each other's faces the nasty attacks you say in ads?

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Washington Post Fact Checker comments: John McCain raised the story of "Joe the Plumber"… He depicted the plumber as an average American who will end up paying more taxes under the Obama plan. In fact, the plumber told Obama that he had plans to buy a company that would make more than $250,000 a year. Obama has conceded that his proposal to phase out the Bush tax cuts for high-income groups will lead to higher taxes for people making more than $250,000 a year.

2125 McCain says he has a long record of reform and bipartisanship and says Obama's claims to have stood up to his party are "not very convincing".

2124 Obama insists that when it comes to economic policies McCain is proposing eight more years of the same thing.

magnifying glass comments: McCain accurately cites the United States' top corporate tax rate. Combined with state corporate taxes (which vary), the statutory corporate tax rates for the United States are among the highest in the world… But the corporate tax picture is more complex than McCain makes it seem… Many economists like to cite "effective marginal tax rates"… McCain's repeated citation of statutory corporate tax rates is misleading because it does not take into account various deductions to which businesses are entitled.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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!

2123 McCain challenges Obama to mention one time when he stood up to his party. McCain really going for Obama.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: McCain now does answer the question - a hatchet to the budget. Pressed: he will eliminate billions by stopping support for ethanol. Makes little sense, but at least he came up with a list of projects for the chop.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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 1,000,000,000 billion dollar salary.

2119 McCain again goes on about pork barrel and that overhead projector he says Obama wanted, as he did in the last debate!

2118 McCain pivots back to home-ownership, and is taken to task by moderator for not answering question, McCain says he will order across-the-board spending freeze, anticipates Obama's criticism that would be a hatchet job by claiming he will then take out a scalpel to cut spending.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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.

comment from blogger
Think Progress blog: 9:13: McCain had been widely criticized for refusing to make eye contact with Obama in the past two debates. He seems to be making an effort to look at Obama tonight (though he appears uncomfortable doing so)

e-mail sent in by reader
Susan, New Jersey, United StatesI have not made up my mind who to vote for. I hope that by the time the debate is over and I go to bed tonight, I will know.

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: McCain comes back with the decent attack - class warfare, "spread the wealth around" is the phrase Obama used. Sounds like socialism. Redistribution. Its a draw so far - McCain is snappy, Obama is professorial.

2116 Obama says we spend $15bn a year on subsidies to insurance firms on healthcare, he will go through federal budget line-by-line and cut, cut, cut those programmes that don't work.

labloguera tweets: I have a few leaks in my house for Joe the plumber, but he is too busy talking to Obama and McCain

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: 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 memorised - spiel about Joe the plumber and how Obama's tax plans penalise him. Obama is smooth in response.

2114 Moderator says about record US deficit, where are they going to cut their spending plans?

2113 McCain says businesses in US paying second-highest tax rate of anywhere in the world, praises Ireland's low corporate tax rate.

e-mail sent in by reader
Vladimir Patic, Los Angeles, United StatesMcCain and Palin are a joke and insult to American voters. I have not seen a candidate like McCain as of yet. He is not solid in his views, he keeps contradicting himself, and his accusations are too general and ill natured.

2110 Obama repeats central plank of his fiscal platform: Keeping Bush tax cuts for those earning under $250,000 a year, scrapping them for those who earn more, 95% of working people in America will get a tax break. PS: Obama didn't answer first question either.

2109 McCain goes on the attack saying Obama wants to tax small firms, raising his remarks to an Ohio plumber the other day.

2107 Obama says he wants to ensure CEOs don't get their snouts into a picnic hamper full of taxpayers' cash. He rattles through his recently unveiled $60bn economic plan: temporary tax credits for new job creation, penalty-free withdrawal from retirement accounts, a 90-day moratorium on some home foreclosures.

whitneyarlene tweets: Oooh McCain made eye contact, human. Also so alert!

justin webb
BBC North America editor Justin Webb: Greetings from Hofstra University. 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 McCain hasn't said why his plan is better than Obama's. First question not answered.

2105 McCain sounds very calm. He repeats his surprise announcement in the last debate of a mortgage rescue plan with a $300bn price tag, which was panned by liberals and conservatives alike as inconsistent with his promised spending cuts.

2103 To the economy first, asking about their newly-unveiled economic rescue plans. Why is your plan better than his? McCain first.

2102 Here we go, round three! Here come the candidates, they shakes hands and say "it's good to see ya".

mattnelson247 tweets: Will McCain bring up Bill Ayers? We're about to find out...

2100 Is McCain in disarray? At the weekend campaign aides said he would unveil a new economic package on Monday. By Sunday night, they said he wouldn't. Then on Monday they said he would. He eventually unveiled it on Tuesday, a day after Obama unveiled his. All grist to the mill for Obama's argument that McCain is "erratic".

2058 New York Senator Hillary Clinton is supposed to be in the audience tonight. Will a wistful "what-might-have-been" wander through her mind as she watches Obama fill the place she battled so hard for in the Democratic primaries?

2057 I'm told there's live video from the debate hall at the top of the page - you can see it if you refresh your page.

2056 With "deregulation" such a dirty word, don't expect the candidates to say anything like Reagan's famous line "Government is the problem", or even Bill Clinton's 1996 echo "the era of big government is over".

MMpcfl tweets: Obama just has to be steedy tonite and he will look like he knocked McCain out

2054 McCain has threatened to raise Obama's links to William Ayers, a Chicago professor and Vietnam-era domestic terrorist. Obama said after their last debate that McCain hadn't had the guts to raise the Ayers issue in person. McCain has signalled he will rise to Obama's schoolyard-style challenge.

e-mail sent in by reader
John Reynolds, Cerritos, United States I expect nothing but the same old sound bites from both candidates, just at a louder volume. McCain will tout his experience and his "Maverick" nature. Obama will tout his Robin Hood fairy tale of change and put a nice shine on the sale of Socialism to the American people.

2048 McCain was accused of letting his running mate Sarah Palin hijack the Straight Talk Express last week amid ugly scenes at rallies and anti-Obama heckling. This is McCain's opportunity, some say his last, to get his campaign back on track.

2045 You may recall McCain also vowed to take the gloves off in the second debate. But the most pugnacious thing he did last time was jerk a finger at Obama and refer to him as "That One".

2042 McCain has promised to "whip" his opponent's "you-know-what" when he faces Obama tonight. Obama's team say they expect the Republican to be "hyper-aggressive". Could McCain could win by finally getting under his opponent's skin? But how to take the fight to the Democrat without looking like the Angry Candidate?

e-mail sent in by reader
Joe Akinmusuru, Michigan, United States This debate is probably more important to McCain than to Obama, especially with his campaign seemingly imploding. With McCain pulling out of Michigan and his party pulling out of Maine and Wisconsin, how does he intend to survive in the remaining 47 states?

2037 Down in the polls and derided even by many Republicans, McCain has been trying to reboot his campaign, casting himself as the valiant underdog. Despite his hefty poll lead - as large as 14 points in one survey - Obama would be foolish to underestimate his politically-weakened opponent. McCain was also counted out this time last year. The gnarled old warrior could prove most dangerous when at bay.

2030 The third debate in numbers: 3,100 journalists, 500,000 ft of wire, 50,000 sq ft of carpet, 1,500 tables and 1,400 phone lines, according to CBS News in the US.

2028 Following complaints that previous debate ringmasters have failed to make the candidates actually answer the questions, Schieffer has promised to ensure they don't duck any tonight. He's also said he expects one of them to score a "decisive win" tonight.

comment from blogger
Tejal Patel, Hofstra University student, New York Times, The Caucus blog: Political activism on campus has definitely increased because of the debate. I've never seen so many students expressing their political views before. This campus has never been so lively and it's great to see all the excitement.

2025 Tonight's tussle will focus on domestic policy. The format is supposed to be conversational and not a soapbox for the candidates to simply regurgitate their stump speeches - which they must by now be muttering in their sleep.

chaseclemons tweets: final debate tonight... not really expecting much. McCain can still pull this one out but it's a long shot.

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2024 As usual the BBC is asking you to have your say on tonight's debate. Send your thoughts and observations to the BBC here. We'll publish a selection on this live blog.

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Carrie Budoff Brown and Jonathan Martin, Politico: John McCain faces the same challenge in the final presidential debate tonight as in the first two encounters: Barack Obama's discipline.

2012 The candidates will be seated inches apart at a table with the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS. As noted on our last live blog, McCain's advisers believe he had his worst debates in the Republican primaries while sitting down. So he could be starting at a disadvantage tonight.

2000 Welcome to our live coverage of the final presidential debate tonight at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York. As per usual, we will have insights from BBC North America editor Justin Webb, some of your e-mails, and the best of the blogs.

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