I was going to do a recap of each question, but this debate wasn't worth it.
John McCain is supposedly the King of the Town Hall Format, and I don't think he did badly, but Barack Obama's personal warmth made him equal to the task. As in the first debate, Obama did what he had to do: make it sound like he knows the issues, obscure the places where McCain tried to paint him into a liberal corner, and come across as a nice man. And he did.
And because of that, he won. Oh, McCain had his moments, and Obama had his slips, but McCain needed more than he showed.
In a few places along the way, McCain tried to use humor, and it mostly failed. For instance, the first words out of McCain's mouth were, "Good to be with you, Sen. Obama, at a town hall meeting." McCain supporters may know Obama ignored McCain's call for multiple town hall meetings during the campaign, so they may see that as a jibe at Obama. The rest of America missed it, or couldn't care less.
McCain tried to tie Obama to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as trumpeting his reformer creds (and somewhat effectively, I thought) but it doesn't matter what McCain says -- Obama just denies it, and the average undecided American has no idea who to believe.
McCain's strongest answer came when Tom Brokaw asked which of three issues (health care, energy and entitlement reform) would get the candidates' first attention. Obama said energy would be first, followed by health care and entitlements. McCain said we could do all three, and added, "We can
attack health care and energy at the same time. I won't tell a person without health insurance, 'Sorry you have to wait.' "
Obama likes to talk about going through the budget "line by line," but seems to forget that the president doesn't have a line-item veto.
On the issue of national sacrifice, Obama outshone his opponent. McCain got distracted by earmarks, while Obama talked about leadership. Noting George Bush's call for Americans to shop after Sept. 11, he said, "That wasn't the call to service people were looking for. Americans are hungry for leadership that will tackle problems in and out of government." Now granted, he then went on to a laundry list, but I thought it was an effective slam at Bush (and by extension, McCain). Obama also did well to talk about setting the right example at the government level, and utilized his class warfare schtick to good effect as he talked about asking a school teacher to sacrifice while CEOs get tax breaks. BS, but effective.
Ooh, a commission to study Medicare. Big whoop.
McCain tried hard to highlight his work across party lines, bringing up the names of liberals like Russ Feingold and Diane Feinstein
McCain got some good shots in regarding Obama's intention to fine people who don't insure their employees or their children (and Obama, miraculously, agreed!), but Obama scored points by playing the sympathy card when his dying mother had to "argue" with insurers over her cancer.
McCain broke down into his campaign speeches for most of the foreign policy section, and lost several opportunities by rambling a bit.
*Obama's big slip: "If we could have intervened effectively in the holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in?" Um, Sen. Obama, we did intervene effectively. It was called World War II. Maybe you could ask Tom Brokaw about it. He wrote a book about it.
McCain's strongest foreign policy answer (even though he never really answered the original question) was on Israel. He said flat-out that we wouldn't wait for UN approval to send troops and that "at the end of the day, we can never allow a second holocaust to take place." Obama danced around the issue. No, we couldn't give the UN a veto (over our plans, I assumed he meant), but we'll talk Iran to death. If I was Israel, I know who I'd want in the White House.
The last question was silly, but the candidates' answers sillier. Obama used humor to his advantage, but McCain took advantage of his position as holder of the last word to show more emotion in 60 seconds than he had in the previous 89 minutes.
* Quote updated to reflect the transcript