The Second Presidential Debate

It’s done. Join me next Wednesday at 2am for the third, and final, presidential debate.

3.37am | In summary – All in all a not very dramatic debate. Both candidates gave reasonably strong performances and, whilst McCain shaking hands with the veteran provided a strong visual, there weren’t really any standout or break through moments. There was certainly no gamechanger.

Based on the outcome of the first debate, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one goes to Obama again in the snap polls and focus groups. He once again passed the commander-in-chief, ready from day one test, which, given his polling lead, was all he needed to do.

3.30am | Final question – The question is “what don’t you know, and how would you learn it.” Obama turns to his biography and talks about unanticipated challenges and the need for a new direction. McCain also turns to his personal narrative and says the country needs a “steady hand at the tiller.” I don’t know if it was a verbal slip, but McCain also says he will “rescue his record.”

3.25am | Israel – A good question this. If Iran attacked Israel, would the US wait for the UN Security Council before sending troops. McCain says he wouldn’t wait, but not before he thanks the member of the audience the question is from for their military service and shakes their hand.

Obama is slightly more balanced – he talks about avoiding the situation but admits that he wouldn’t want the UN to have a veto over the ability of the US to intervene.

3.19am | Russia – This is basically the latter part of the first debate on a loop at the moment. The candidates have moved onto Russia and McCain repeats his ‘I’ve looked into Putin’s eyes and seen KGB’ line.

3.09am | Pakistan – McCain has named both Ronald Regan and now Teddy Roosevelt as his personal heroes tonight. Meanwhile, both candidates are reiterating their positions on warning Pakistan in the event of operations across the border from Afghanistan.

Obama turns a McCain (really Teddy Roosevelt) line about talking softly but carrying a big stick into a hit over the “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” gaffe. McCain has to explain that he was “joking with a veteran.”

3.04am | Military intervention and genocide – Senator Obama talks about moral obligations: would you have standed by if you could stop the Holocaust, he asks. He also notes that the US has to work with her allies; American troops can’t be everywhere at once.

McCain has, I think, somewhat misjudged the tone of answering this one. He hits Obama on setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq straight away.

3.00am | The economy and military standing – How can America play an international peace-making role? McCain: “America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world.” He plays on his military past and judgement on foreign policy. This is real McCain territory and he’s answering well. He sounds less like a grumpy old man, and more emotionally resonant in this section.

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Obama turns again to his, now traditional, judgement argument: “Senator McCain was cheerleading the President on going into Iraq.”

2.55am | Healthcare choice – Both candidates repeat the relevant portions of their stump speeches, livened only by McCain’s dig at hair transplants (aka. Senator Biden).

McCain says healthcare is a responsibility, not a right or privilege. Obama, by contrast, says it is a right and he mentions his mother dying of cancer in a hospital bed at 53 while arguing with insurance firms. It’s the first anecdote in a wave of policy detail, and one that might well connect with voters.

2.49am | Minutiae – This is getting increasingly bogged down in relatively minute back-and-forths between the two candidates, I can imagine a lot of people beginning to switch off. The losers here are the voters, but Obama is also not complaining. So far McCain hasn’t produced one of the gamechanging moments he needs.

In the meantime, McCain just called Obama “that one.” Perhaps not the best comment for someone looking to appear more respectful than he did in the first debate.

2.43am | Environmental issues – McCain repeats his support for nuclear power. Generally, so far both candidates have seemed pretty authoritative. No big moments so far, but strong performances from both. If anything, the answers have all been just a bit dull.

2.36am | Tax raises – Talking of past presidents, McCain brings up Herbert Hoover, ‘the last President to raise taxes during a time of economic crisis.’ Obama’s tax proposals are like jello – that there have been at least six but that the essence is that the Illinois senator would raise taxes.

2.28am | What can you do for your country – The question, from the internet, asks what sacrifices each American will have to make. McCain talks again about eliminating agencies that aren’t working. He mentioned a federal spending freeze in the last debate and he does that again here; he’s certainly staking out his Reagan-small government principles.

Senator McCain also hits back, pretty effectively, on Obama’s failure to say he can’t do all three of the priorities just listed at once. Tell that to the person desperate for health care, he says.

Obama brings up 9/11 and the country coming together, and then turns to fuel-efficiency sacrifices. He’s also looking to involve young people – he promises to encourage volunteering and to double the Peace Corps. If McCain is laying claim to Reagan’s legacy, Obama’s turning to JFK.

2.24am | One for me, one for you – Tom Brokaw the moderator gets to ask a question in between each audience question. He asks the candidates which order they place healthcare, energy and social security (entitlement reform) in. McCain refuses to prioritise and says he’ll do all three at once. Ronald Reagan gets a shout out again, so too does Teddy Kennedy – he’s bipartisan don’t you know.

Obama mentions the local price of petrol though it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t buy gas in Nashville so not sure quite how genuine that ‘man of the people’ remark really seems. Obama lists his priorities as energy, healthcare, education and then hits back at McCain on earmarks.

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2.19am | Trust – The question is about how either candidate can be trusted when both parties are to blame for the economic situation.

Obama avoids his typical bi-partisan themes. He points out that Bush inherited a surplus and left a deficit and that McCain voted for 4 of 5 Bush budgets.

So far both candidates are criticising each other regularly but the format doesn’t quite allow them to engage with each other directly. they’re too busy speaking to the audience members. Not to hark on about this, but it’s somewhat disconcerting.

McCain’s up now, he’s pushing his bi-partisan credentials. However, he’s also turning to Obama’s excessive earmark spending. It’s an odd one to return to. Many voters get that $3m here and there doesn’t really matter in relation to a $700 billion deal, and pundits suggested that the earmark speech by McCain didn’t really work in the first debate.

2.11am | That Bailout – How will that bailout help real America? McCain notes that it’s hurting Main Street, but turns the question to Obama’s earlier support for Fannie and Freddie. Style-wise McCain continues to keep this very personal. He’s directly addressing the man who asked the question.

Obama follows suit, addressing ‘Oliver’ by his first name. They’re both putting in hits on each other, but it’s all remaining pretty cordial thus far. Obama seeks to correct McCain’s statements on his ties to Fannie and Freddie. McCain thinks American workers are great.

2.09am | Next Treasury Secretary – Both are asked who they’d name to succeed Henry Paulson. McCain opens with a joke “not you Tom”, and names Warren Buffet (who has supported Obama) and the former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. Obama says Buffet might be a good choice, but moves on to his standard themes – pushing for a middle class tax cut etc.

2.04am | Economic crisis – Obama’s up first. He calls it the “worst financial crisis since the first depression.” McCain was criticised for not looking at Obama last time, he’s already done that. McCain is addressing his answer directly to individual audience members, he’s standing very close to the crowd.

This format really is very odd. The two candidates are free to roam in front of a small audience which surrounds, or rather is on, three sides of the stage.

2.02am | We’re underway – Tom Brokaw is hosting, and he’s introducing the rules. The questions are from 100 local voters covering a range of topics.

And here are the candidates, perched somewhat awkwardly on stools.

1.58am | Introduction – Better late than never, the second Presidential Debate is about to start in Tennessee so join me for live analysis as the liveblogging begins.

You can follow the debate live at cnn.com.