If you were playing a drinking game during the debate last night, that should have been your phrase -- "my friends." Sen. John McCain said it 19 times last night. It was almost comical. Similar to Gov. Sarah Palin's "you betcha" and "Joe Sixpack," McCain was trying to identify with everday people. He failed. Polls show that Sen. Barack Obama won the second debate. Probably no surprise I agree, being an Obama supporter, but watching McCain during this debate was painful. I felt sorry for him. In the first debate, he did well, even if he didn't win. I still think he hurt himself by not looking at Obama or seeming to acknowledge his presence at all, but at least he managed to get his points across.
In the second debate, McCain looked nervous, stumbling over his words at times. He made jokes that fell flat. He tried to connect with the audience by talking to those members who asked questions, but it came off as creepy. He didn't seem sincere at all. And when it was all over, he shook hands with audience members briefly, then he and Cindy dashed out of the Curb Center. For a man who considered the audience "his friends," he sure didn't stick around to talk to them. That was telling. Obama and his wife were individually talking to people in the audience and stayed for some time after the debate ended. Michelle Obama also sat in the audience during the debate. Cindy McCain, on the other hand, seemed to come from backstage after the debate ended, and then just followed her husband around on stage while he shook hands. She didn't talk to any audience members and didn't seem interested in them. Then the pair left. Their actions didn't make me, and probably didn't make other hockey moms and Joe Sixpacks, think he was their friend. Just that McCain was a sore loser who knew he had lost and was ready to get out of Dodge.
The other thing that struck me was that McCain supposedly does well in town halls, so it would stand to reason that he should do well in a town hall debate. Just like one would assume that with all McCain's supposed foreign policy experience, he would have won the first debate by a wide margin. Yet, he didn't win the first debate and looked stiff in this one. He didn't seem comfortable at all. McCain repeated some of the same lines from the first debate (which didn't work for him then) and his stump speeches, lines which Obama again debunked and countered. McCain had to do well in this debate. He's falling behind in the polls. He's resorting to desperate personal attacks to try to stop the hemorrhaging. He needed to win handily, because anything less would do nothing for him. McCain didn't win handily. He didn't even win.
So where does that leave McCain? I'm sure he'll be back to personal attacks today, as will Palin. I'm sure the personal attacks will increase as the weeks go on. But I think voters are smart enough to see it's a desperate attempt by a desperate campaign that is willing to do anything to win. Experts say that going negative can alienate the candidate going on the attack. Sometimes it can help, but it's a risk. It looks like McCain is willing to take that risk. But after a day of personal attacks on the campaign trail from McCain and Palin, Obama still won the debate. If anyone believed these stories about Obama and William Ayers, it wouldn't have mattered what Obama said during the debate or how well he performed. Voters would have turned against him. It didn't happen. Twenty-six days until Election Day. Stay tuned.