Obama, McCain spar on national security, bailout

It was hard to tell if there were more disagreements voiced during the presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama or after it on television.

The networks’ pundits moved quickly Friday to put into perspective a debate seen by tens of millions of Americans, although a clear winner didn’t emerge. It was a reflection of cautiousness, the closeness of the race and the influence of furious spinning by both campaigns.

“There was no knockout, and maybe no knockdown, but McCain was on the offensive throughout,” commentator William Kristol said on Fox News Channel.

Fellow pundit Juan Williams snapped, “I thought Barack Obama put John McCain on the defensive all night.”

David Gergen, CNN analyst, said, “McCain needed a clear victory tonight and I think that eluded him.”

Said Fox’s Chris Wallace, “I think the McCain campaign is very happy tonight.”

And they weren’t even the professional spinners, who try to buttonhole reporters backstage with opinions about as predictable as the sun rising every morning.

Obama’s campaign put forward vice presidential candidate Joe Biden for post-debate interviews, and he appeared on all the news networks. His Republican counterpart, Sarah Palin, was nowhere in sight.

The first debate, which was supposed to be centered on foreign policy, concerned the economy for about 40 minutes. Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS kept his questions simple to get the men talking. He even pushed the candidates to address each other instead of the camera, a request that had some success when heated foreign policy exchanges came.

Snapshot polls by CBS News showed Obama with a clear advantage among voters. In a roomful of uncommitted voters, when asked afterwards who won the debate, the number of people who raised their hands for Obama was more than double those for McCain.

“Is the race now different than it was at 9 p.m. eastern time?” asked ABC commentator George Will. “The answer I think is no. This wasn’t a game changer.”