McNasty Loses Debate Skirmish, but War on 'The Cool One' Slogs On
• Will John McCain's insensitive abortion gaffe cost him female votes?
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McNasty showed up tonight armed with his Long Island "surprise," Joe the Plumber, the Everyman who just happened to confront Barack Obama the other day about the Democrat's tax plans (funny how those things happen). The Republican presidential candidate smirked and scoffed and blinked and winked and rolled his eyes and huffed and puffed. But even though he played the Joe the Plumber card to the hilt -- forcing Obama to address the citizen surrogate by name -- Big Bad John couldn't bring down the Temple of Obama in the third and final U.S. presidential debate.
More raffish than arrogant, calm and cool, the rightful heir to the JFK mystique, Democrat Barack Obama let McCain bluster and flail, applying the salve after Johnny Rocket burned and fizzled.
The mainstream instant polls awarded Obama a solid if not spectacular win. Commentators on Fox News and The Drudge Report's reader tally gave an overwhelming rose-colored thumbs up to McCain (but a Fox focus group handed the night to Obama).
Obama had his chances to put McCain away; true to form, he perplexingly refused to do so. McCain, as promised, had the temerity to bring up Obama's professional relationship with convicted Sixties radical bomber turned college professor Bill Ayers. When moderator Bob Schieffer asked McCain if he thought Obama did indeed "pal around with terrorists," as his running mate has charged, the candidate refused to answer. When Obama reminded him that voices in McCain-Pain crowds have shouted "terrorist" and "kill him" at the mention of his name, McCain refused to issue a rebuke, instead choosing to express his pride in his supporters.
Obama very easily could have interjected something sharp and clever like, "John, how would you feel if Joe Biden said that Sarah Palin's husband has palled around with a bunch of secessionists?" But he didn't. Perhaps wisely -- if he ends up winning the election. One TV pundit accurately described Obama's strategy as doing a Muhammad Ali- style "rope-a-dope" -- lean back and let your opponent wear himself out with a fusillade of punches that never find their mark.
By not losing, of course, Obama wins the debate. But a seven-point lead in the polls easily could give way to any combination of the following: the Bradley Effect (when white folks tell pollsters they'll vote for a black candidate, but won't); voting machine "irregularities" and the inability to do recounts without a paper trail; an "October Surprise"; or simply "buyer's remorse."
Obama won the battle tonight -- but he could have used the occasion to put it away. He didn't. He could have seized upon McCain's testy dismissal of the "health of the mother" in the abortion debate. He didn't.
And he never had a chance with this particular Joe the Plumber, trust me on that.
And so we await the next shoe that may drop, very soon.
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