- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

John McCain unleashed a new tactic against his Democratic rival Barack Obama.

During the debate, McCain said Obama “doesn’t understand” one issue or another — four times.

McCain said Obama didn’t understand the situation in Iran and Iraq, for example. Two other times as well.

Obama protested that he understood completely. But the phrase was obviously a calculated barb from the veteran McCain. It was meant to make the much-younger Obama seem less ready for the Big Job. We can probably expect the phrase to be used by McCain again.

Or its variations. When speaking about Russia, McCain called Obama “naive” — a variation on the theme.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, managing editor-digital, The Washington Times

The presidential candidates are showing themselves to be punchers, not boxers, to use a sporting metaphor.

In a long series of backs and forths over Iraq, John McCain and Barack Obama hammered each other hard and gave no ground on any issue.

But it’s hard to judge that McCain didn’t get the best of the encounter. McCain’s greater experience in Iraq and as a soldier came through, leaving Obama a little winded, though clearly still game.

Score one, on Iraq, for McCain. But the debate is not nearly over.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, managing editor-digital, The Washington Times

The presidential candidates have been asked twice what they think about the huge financial bailout plan now pending in Washington, and for the second time they have talked about something else.

McCain and Obama exchange jabs at debate

They obviously want to talk about anything other than the controversial, up to $700 billion rescue effort recommended by the Bush administration, so fraught is the topic with political downsides.

John McCain talked about cutting spending. Barack Obama talked about health care. Earlier they battled over who hated earmarks — special spending projects &#8212 more. Clearly, they don’t want to confront the question head on.

Nor are they eager to say which of their campaign promises they will have to jettison because of the massive buildup in debt that would result if the bailout passes.

McCain came close to answering when he suggested a freeze of some spending program. But that was probably something he wanted to do anyway.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, managing editor-digital, The Washington Times

If anyone needed proof that the politicians think voters are sick and tired to partisanship, the beginning of the presidential debate offered plenty.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain went out of his way at the very start of the debate to give a shout out to one of the leading Democrats in the Senate, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. McCain called Kennedy “the lion of the senate” and wished him good health after noting that Kennedy, who is undergoing therapy for brain cancer, was taken to the hospital in Boston earlier today.

If McCain has a chance to win this election, he will need the votes of some disaffected Democrats. One way to do that, he clearly believes, is to show his affinity for Democrats — like Ted Kennedy.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, managing editor-digital, The Washington Times

All eyes will be on Oxford tonight. Well, millions of eyes anyway.

The first presidential debate at the University of Mississippi will be the center of the political universe. Watch for record numbers of viewers this evening (starting at 9 p.m. EDT), a deluge of attention that comes for lots of good reasons.

Among them: The race is close, the economy is fragile and Americans want to know, “Who can take the heat?”

Republican John McCain has a lot of explaining to do. Why did he “suspend” his campaign only to ride into Washington and get no deal on a Wall Street rescue plan? What is his own plan anyway, and why are members of his party in the House holding up the bailout?

Barack Obama also has plenty to prove. Does he have the depth of knowledge to go toe-to-toe with a veteran of Washington like McCain? Can he justify the tax increases that are central to his economic platform?

Nobody knows what will happen, only that the stakes are gigantic. Stay tuned here, and come back often. We will try to keep a running account of what’s happening and also toss in some commentary along the way.

—Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, managing editor — digital, The Washington Times

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