Initial reaction: Obama wins on points

INITIAL REACTION: OBAMA WINS ON POINTS…. I’ll have a more thought out reaction to the debate in the morning, but my insta-reaction was that Obama had the edge, on points.

I think a lot of observers go into a debate like this waiting for a knock-out blow, along the lines of a “You’re no Jack Kennedy” moment. That almost never happens, and tonight certainly didn’t have any lasting, humiliating moments.

I was a little surprised at the contempt McCain showed for Obama, refusing to even look at Obama during the debate. It was the height of arrogance — McCain’s not-so-subtle message was that he didn’t even want to be on the same stage with his rival. I lost count of how many times he said Obama “doesn’t understand” an issue, even when it was obvious that it was McCain who was confused.

As for Obama, I continue to think about the 1980 analogy — Obama playing the role of Reagan, taking advantage of an electorate desperate for change, and clearing the credibility hurdle. Obama’s principal goal, I suspect, was to demonstrate his readiness, reassure skeptics, and prove that he belongs there. Reagan did it in ’80, and Obama did it tonight. As I watched, I kept thinking, “This guy is ready to lead.”

I never have any idea how “typical voters” will react to these events, but from where I sat, Obama looked very strong, demonstrating considerable foreign policy knowledge, an even temperament, and a striking intellect. McCain seemed defensive, angry, and even by his standards, he rambled quite a bit.

We’ll have more numbers soon enough, but Ambinder has this data from CBS News:

40% of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. 22% thought John McCain won. 38% saw it as a draw.

68% of these voters think Obama would make the right decision about the economy. 41% think McCain would.

49% of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. 55% think McCain would.

Like I said, I’ll have more in the morning, but if I were giving letter grades, I’d say Obama deserves an A-, while McCain might get a generous B. How about you?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.