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Breaking Down the Second Presidential Debate

Aired October 7, 2008 - 22:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're going to see if senators Obama and McCain actually shake hands. What they do -- I see Senator McCain is already joined by his wife, Cindy.
Anderson, it's clear that there were very stark differences, very stark differences on a whole host of issues that these two presidential candidates spelled out on the economy, on taxes, health care, the war in Iraq, Afghanistan. I could go on.

But the American public got a pretty -- pretty candid assessment from both of these candidates where they agree -- very little, apparently -- and where they disagree.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Also the first time we have seen these two men on a stage together in this kind of a format, in which they were trading off answers and allowed to kind of wander around. The physicality of both men making an impact, no doubt, on the viewers in the same way that some of their comments do.

This was a debate unlike any we have seen from these two men working together. It was a fascinating night.

And there you have Michelle Obama next to John McCain and Cindy McCain, and Barack Obama still talking to the crowd.

BLITZER: Yes. I don't think they've exchanged any greetings yet. There it is right there. He tapped him, and there's the little hand shake right there.

It's apparent that Senator McCain has some disdain, I think it's fair to say, for Senator Obama. That came very -- that was very apparent throughout the course of this debate.

COOPER: It was a debate at times contentious, as the rules seemed to at times get in the way of their ability to directly address one another. At one point they kind of tried to dispense with some of the rules, over the objection of the moderator, Tom Brokaw.

But a fascinating night of politics, and we're going to cover it for the next hour and a half on this post-debate edition of 360.

Let's get right to our panel here. We've got a whole panel of both nonpartisan and partisan observers. But let's start over here with the nonpartisan folks. Just a quick round up of your impressions -- Suzanne Malveaux. SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We heard from Linda Douglass, the Obama spokesperson. It's not surprising she said that he came across with strength and clarity, who understands the middle class.

One thing that really struck me, however, is when he said to McCain, "I understand -- there's some things that I don't understand. I don't understand Iraq. I don't understand why we weren't greeted as liberators."

There are a lot of Obama supporters who were really frustrated at the last debate that he didn't take on McCain when it came to the -- what they say is some naivete or this condescension. Obama did that this time, and he directed that at McCain. That was something that they really wanted to hear that they didn't hear last time.

COOPER: David Gergen, your thoughts overall?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, I think I disagreed with your characterization of fascinating. It didn't seem to me there was much electricity tonight, that it was flat at times and there were repetition at times of what we'd heard.

COOPER: I mean your first...


GERGEN: I don't think so. But I thought John McCain was more effective than he was last time on domestic policy. I thought his answers in general were more organized, and he made his points more effectively. I thought he was a little flat on foreign policy. That was a surprise to me.

Senator Obama was composed, collected. I thought his answers were well put together. And I thought, watching the meter, but generally my impression was that he made many arguments which related well to women. And you could see the numbers going high on that.

Overall, my sense was that Obama came out modestly ahead, and I would imagine the polls will show a modest...

COOPER: And Campbell, you disagree with David?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANALYST: I disagree with him. I actually thought it was a far more interesting debate than the first one. And I thought they both sort of learned from the first debate and brought something different into this. I mean, they both seemed to be far -- to me more engaged.

I mean, that -- the town-hall setting works for John McCain. We knew that going in. He wanted Barack Obama to do this, you know, throughout the campaign. But it also worked for Obama. And I felt their answers -- they were forced in that setting to talk directly to people, and they made their answers.

COOPER: John King, it was interesting to see... JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I disagree with that one.

BROWN: Now, now...

TOOBIN: I thought that was a weird moment when he said -- when he referred to Barack Obama as "that one." I thought that was something people will remember.

COOPER: There's a generational difference, though, in just watching them together on a stage, that close kind of wandering around together -- John King.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stylistically, they are different, and most of that is the generational difference between them. It was clear early on that McCain is more comfortable in this format. He went immediately to the person who asked the first question, very close to him. Obama for the first question or so hung back in the middle, and then he became much closer to them, and they both started working around. Stylistically, I think that was apparent very on.

My conversations with voters over the past week, I think that people will come away disappointed. McCain had a new plan for the treasury: buying up bad loans and trying to renegotiate mortgages. A little bit of discussion about the big financial bailout and the crisis and the turmoil. But there was nothing big or new from either one that sort of said, "Leader. Trust me." The arms around it.

I'm not being very articulate about it, because people don't know what they want. But they want to hear something from these guys that makes them feel more comfortable.

COOPER: Gloria Borger?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think McCain missed some opportunities here. When he was asked the sacrifice question, for example, he ended up talking about earmarks somehow.


BORGER: When in fact, this was a question he should have hit out of the ballpark.

COOPER: Dana Bash, you had heard before they were going to try not to talk so much about...

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was e-mail -- I was e-mailing with some of his advisers, saying what happened to no earmarks? Well, you know, that is one of the ways this adviser said that she's trying to -- she's trying to get at the idea that he doesn't really understand the way to fix Washington.

COOPER: I want to bring in some of the folks from the other table. James Carville joining us for the first time, obviously, a Democratic strategist.

James, your thoughts? JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, these two guys don't cotton to each other. There's just evidence that they just really kind of don't like each other.

And I thought Obama won the debate. I think McCain had to win the debate. I don't think that he did. And I agree with David, I think when the poll comes in, we'll probably see that this was a must- win night for John McCain, and I don't think that he did.

COOPER: Bill Bennett, Republican?

BILL BENNETT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If they don't like each other, I wish they'd show it a little bit more. Make it a little more interesting.

I confess. I so much admire John McCain, but I just don't think the campaign is equal to the story. I just don't think it's equal to the man. It hasn't been.

The last comments he made, I thought, were impressive and quite -- and quite moving. But he needed to break through tonight -- I'll be consistent and say what I said up front. He needs to break through talking about the economy. I think he was a little better than last time. He didn't break through enough, and he's behind.

So you know, it just wasn't good enough for McCain in terms of what it had to be.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos, I did not have the pleasure of watching this in H.D., so I didn't see your scoring. But I'm told you actually scored it higher yet again for the Democrat. You're a Republican strategist. What's going on here?


COOPER: Not only...

CASTELLANOS: Obama scored, I thought, early more points on the economy. I think McCain caught up at the tail end when we were talking a little bit about foreign policy.

But I learned tonight that, you know, McCain wants to buy everyone a house, and Obama wants to give everyone free health care, which I think is remarkable for a country that's broke. I was very impressed by that.

But you know, a status quo debate probably goes to the guy who's ahead. And I think tonight both of these candidates painted the house the same color it was. So I don't think we're going to notice a big difference.

COOPER: Paul Begala, Democrat?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Obama clearly had a strategy: link McCain to Bush and make him the status quo. And he did it again and again. He did it on the economy. He did it on the debt and deficit. He did it on post-9/11 leadership. He did it on foreign policy. Again and again.

McCain was very scattershot. He attacked Barack for being for earmarks, as we've mentioned. He attacked him at one point for nuclear power. He thinks it should be safe or something. Have a radical view.

He called him "that one," which is really a sneering, snarky sort of thing.

And his one time when he seemed like he was getting it risky, was when he effectively attacked Obama for being too bellicose in his rhetoric toward Pakistan. But Obama was right. He smacked him down by reminding the audience that "this is the guy who sang, 'Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.' And he's saying that I'm too risky."

COOPER: That's certainly not the first time Obama's used that line.

BEGALA: No, but it works. He uses it because it works. And it stopped McCain cold. You can see the body language. He literally just kind of stopped and thought, "Oh, rats, there goes my -- there goes my risky argument."

COOPER: But Bill Bennett, for you?

BENNETT: But it was about when he was with a group of other soldiers, other naval flyers, and he made a joke. And people can understand that as a joke.

I don't think that "that one" was anything sinister or horrible. It was "that one" as opposed to "this one."

COOPER: But for you John McCain did not do what he needed to do?

BENNETT: I don't think he did enough, because he's behind. He's behind by six or eight points. I think he was fine, but he wasn't fine enough. It's a great effect. But the campaign goes on. There's another debate.

BORGER: And you know, on the issue of health care, which is so important to many people, particularly given the economy, I think that was Barack Obama's single best answer. He was clear about what he would do with health care. He was also clear on energy, the green answer.

But in terms of outlining a proposal, "This is what I would do; this is what he would do," I thought that was his single best.

GERGEN: I totally agree with that. And I thought Obama did a better job of actually talking about how people live and relating -- it wasn't -- he wasn't emotional about it, but at least he captured the essence of how they lived.

And to go to Bill Bennett's point, which I think is absolutely right, that McCain had what ought have been the greatest sound. I think will make a really interesting idea about buying these home mortgages. But it wasn't explained. And you have no idea, what is this all about? How does it work?

I mean, if that was his new idea, which is seemed to be, coming to the debate, where was the explanation so that it was compelling? I don't hear that.

BASH: One thing, actually, I thought that Paul was mentioning about this whole idea that he's not Bush. I was talking to one of his advisers before this debate who said George W. Bush isn't on the ballot. But wow, that's a line we heard from John McCain tonight. That could be very interesting. It didn't come out of his mouth.

However, when he was talking about this homeowner's idea, he said, "It's not Barack Obama's proposal; it's not George Bush's proposal. It's my proposal." It was one of maybe two times -- the other time was climate change -- where he made it very clear, I am not George Bush, which they know internally, that is absolutely essential.

COOPER: We've got a lot more ahead. And for the next hour and 15 minutes, we're going to be discussing this.

We're also going to be showing you the key moments from tonight's debate. So if you missed any of it, stick with us for the next hour and 15 minutes. You'll be able to catch up on, really, the best moment, the most important exchanges. We're going to playing that all throughout this next edition of -- this 360 post-debate edition.

Also, at 12 a.m. Eastern Time, we will be repeating the debate for viewers who didn't watch it. So stay with us all throughout the evening.

Let's go right now to Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much. We're also going to be going out to Columbus, Ohio. Soledad O'Brien was watching this 90- minute debate with a focus group of voters who were not yet, for sure, committed to either of these two candidates.

You saw how they were reacting throughout the course of the debate, those squiggly lines at the bottom of the screen. We're going to be able to get their sense of how these two candidates did.

And we're also standing by for a poll, a poll that we've been conducting of those who watched the debate. We're going to get the poll. That's coming up fairly soon. You'll see how the American public responded to this second of three presidential debates.

Our special coverage will continue right after this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We can attack health care and energy at the same time. We're not -- we're not rifle shots here. We are Americans. We can, with the participation of all Americans, work together and solve these problems together.

Frankly, I'm not going to tell that person without health insurance that "I'm sorry you'll have to wait." I'm going to tell you Americans we'll get to work right away and we'll get to work together.



BLITZER: All right. You're looking at live pictures of the hall at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in the middle of your screen there. There he is, Barack Obama. He's still on the stage over there. Michelle Obama's right behind him over there. They're both shaking hands. They're speaking with some of the folks who came to this second of three presidential debates.

We watched it for 90 minutes, and now we're getting assessment. We're also standing by, by the way, for a poll that we've been conducting across the country. We'll get you the results of that.

But right now I want to go out to Columbus, Ohio, Ohio being one of the key battleground states right now. Soledad O'Brien was watching this debate with a group of individuals who were persuadable. They were Democrats, Republicans, independents, but they were open- minded, our focus group.

And we saw their reactions, Soledad, throughout the course of the debate at the bottom of our screen. But tell us how these folks reacted to what -- what just happened.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's always really interesting to watch them squiggles as you're watching the debate.

Before the debate, 60 percent of the people who were electronically polled said the economy is the No. 1 issue. And just a moment ago we were talking and they felt they heard a lot on that issue.

Sixty-eight percent said they felt the country was heading -- the country, rather, was heading the wrong direction and almost across the board believed that they did not hear specifics about how to turn the country around from the wrong direction.

Where we saw high marks, economy, oil independence, foreign policy. All those things had folks turning their clickers, their dials up to the right, and they were really reacting to that.

But we want to get back to our show of hands, which we always do about who you think won the debate. So let's begin with that. If you think Senator McCain was the better in this debate, please raise your hands. We have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten people. Is that about right? Yes, ten people. OK. We've got 25 people here.

If you think Senator Obama won the debate raise your hand. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11, 12 people. So pretty close, since we have a group of about 25 people.

Let's get back to the folks we spoke to earlier, our registered Democrat, our registered Republican, our registered independent. Mike Winbush (ph) is our registered Democrat.

You said you wanted specifics on health care. They spent a fair amount of time on health care. Did you -- what did you hear? Did you like what you heard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it still was a little muddled. I'm still not real sure what exactly affordability is. And it just still gives me doubt on if health care's issues are going to be solved. I'm not real sure.

O'BRIEN: How did you feel, Cheryl (ph)? I know you had felt you didn't get a lot of specifics the last presidential debate. What do you think this time around? And did you hear what you wanted to hear?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I did not. I didn't hear anything at all. I just heard a bunch of, you know, the same old thing, I mean from both candidates, which I was really surprised about. Very disappointed.

O'BRIEN: Disappointed. OK, J.R., you said it was about alternative fuel. And both candidates spent a decent amount of time, probably more than they did in the first debate, talking about that. Did that give you -- make you give them high marks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They definitely pinpointed on different aspects of what we could do to, you know, change the economy and go towards the alternative fuels. But I don't think they actually pinpointed the specifics on what I was looking for each one of the candidates to pinpoint on.

O'BRIEN: Right across this way is someone we saw at the first presidential debate. Craig Nelson is back with us.

You've now attended two with this dial tester. Did you hear what you wanted to hear? What did you need to hear from the candidates? And now you sat by two, dialing second by second your response. You're an independent, a registered independent. Where are you now?

CRAIG NELSON, VOTER: Well, it's interesting. I think in the first debate, Senator Obama clearly won, and this debate, in my opinion, I definitely think the town-hall format fit McCain a little bit better.

As far as where I'm at, I still hear a lot of the same from both candidates. They continue to want to just press -- press their issue. And I'm not really seeing a whole lot of different opinions from them on -- from the first debate to this one.

O'BRIEN: And I'm seeing lots of people in the audience nodding with you.

We are going to come back in a little bit and talk more, do another show of hands, about who they'd vote for if they were forced to vote today. We'll talk about that a little bit later.

Craig, I thank you.

And of course, she was well.

So that's where it stands. Of course, you only got 27 days left to election day. We'll talk to our independent voters about that ahead also -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Soledad. Four weeks from today, people go to the polls. We're going to get back to Soledad. We're going to hear from more of these folks.

And we're also standing by to get the results of our poll that we've been conducting.

Anderson, this reaction is fascinating to hear what these folks are saying, and we'll hear what our experts here are saying, as well. But I think, most important, the American public is going to eventually respond. That would be on November 4.

COOPER: And we're still seeing pictures of Michelle Obama and Barack Obama still on the stage, talking to those voters who were in the room.

Our coverage continues here over the next hour and five minutes. We're going to have a CNN poll. We've been polling people right after the debate for their immediate reaction. We'll give you the results of that coming up.

We're also going to be playing you the best moments over the course of the next hour, the most important moments from the debate, some of the most important exchanges, as well. You'll see that, as well as "Keeping Them Honest," how their comments compare to the facts as we know them. We're "Keeping Them Honest" honest ahead on this post-debate edition of 360. We'll be right back.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We just found out that AIG, a company that got a bailout, just a week after they got help, went on a $400,000 junket. And I tell you what, the treasury should demand that money back, and those executives should be fired.



COOPER: And welcome back to this post-debate edition of 360. I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks very much for joining us, along with Wolf Blitzer and Campbell Brown, the rest of our team here.

We have a lot ahead in this hour. John King is going to be at the magic map showing us where this race now stands, where the key battleground states are. That's coming up in a little bit. And mostly importantly, Campbell Brown is going to have a CNN poll, which is conducted instantly after this debate to find out some instant reaction to who won, who lost.

Right now, let's turn to our panel. The format here, we heard from Soledad's focus group. There was dissatisfaction with the format here. I know there was a lot of grumbling here, as well.

TOOBIN: I'm with them. I thought the format was awful. I thought Tom Brokaw didn't do a very good job of focusing the conversation. I thought he asked a lot of questions that were just his own questions. They didn't have a chance to engage with each other. I thought it made it boring. I just thought that format should be tossed, never to be used again.