Grading the Second Presidential Debate

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Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama speaks during the second presidential debate with Republican candidate John McCain in Nashville on Oct. 7

Barack Obama

Substance: Crisply specific on his economic platform, and personal and expository on the importance to regular Americans of the financial bailout. The Democratic nominee was manifestly familiar with the intricacies of the Federal Government, including the budget. But he still is not touting any signature policies in a manner that would burn them into the national consciousness or clarify his game plan once in office.

Grade: B+

Style: Neither nervous nor tentative in speech or manner. He was comfortable walking the stage and interacting with the questioners, although, as always, led with his head and not his heart. Less grim than in the first debate, he was still perhaps too antiseptic for some tastes, without generating passion or big moments.

Grade: B+

Offense: For most of the evening, he firmly jabbed at McCain on some of his recent statements, but without much impact. He hit harder by citing some of McCain's foreign policy miscues, including his famous singing of "Bomb, Bomb Iran"—drawing a strained, rattled reply from his rival. Rigorously familiar with McCain's policy proposals and past statements, particularly on health care, he used that arsenal in his arguments. Seeded answers with mentions of "George Bush" whenever he could, which his campaign considers an automatic, all-purpose trump card.

Grade: B+

Defense: Unruffled when McCain went after him, smiling softly while he waited to respond. And respond he did — following his clear rule to answer every charge McCain leveled at him (even when debate rules forbade a response). When faced with any attack, he kept to a pattern: showed little anger, spent minimal time batting away charges, clarified his position and then went on the offense or talked positively about his own views.

Grade: B+

Overall: Played it typically cautious and safe and thus avoided major blunders, knowing if he commits no errors for the next 30 days, he will be the next President of the United States. The Illinois Senator used a coolly determined offense to keep McCain from building up a full head of steam when on the attack. Comfortably indicated a thorough grasp of his policies and agenda. It was not a dominating performance but a good enough one. Two debates down and one to go for the prohibitive favorite.

Overall grade: B+

(See John McCain's report card here.)

(Click here to see the 10 Memorable Debate Moments.)

(Debate the debate here.)

(See a gallery of campaign gaffes here.)

(Click here to read a Brief History of Campaign Songs.)

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