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Well the AP liked McCain — “By that measure, McCain won the last debate of the 2008 campaign.” Conservatives’ opinions ranged from skeptical ( “McCain wasn’t just throwing the kitchen sink at Obama. He was throwing the dish-washer, the blender, the cutlery, the laundry, the flatware, anything he could get his hands on. All to seemingly no effect.”) to enthusiastic (” a solid win”), with many in between (“not great tonight, but he was good”).

Larry Kudlow, like many of us, was surprised he didn’t mention his new tax plans and acknowledges: “To be honest, I don’t think Mac works hard enough to master the economic issues, especially tax cuts and growth. He has supply-side policies, but he is not a supply-sider. It shows when he talks about that stuff.”

In some ways this was the most revealing debate. This is the real McCain — jabbing and counterpunching, a bit saracastic, and not the most articulate at conveying detailed information but at heart a low tax, reform-oriented, rather socially conservative Republican who places more stock than many conservatives in bipartisanship. He isn’t going to make a character attack on his opponent and he isn’t going catch him in the moment on some fairly glaring lies (e.g. abortion). Like any candidate, he has strengths and weaknesses but had the dilemma of running with an unpopular president in the midst of a meltdown. Could the last month have been navigated more adeptly? Without question. Is there a chance to narrow the gap? Perhaps. Would a better September and more aggressive debate performances have kept him closer? We won’t ever know.


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