Well, folks, we're gonna take a stab at liveblogging this sucker. Hopefully McCain's lack of prep will make for some interesting moments.
8:05 - Obama gets the first answer. He seems to be doing a decent job controlling his tendency toward over-verbiage. Nice clear points. Good job connecting the economic disaster to Bush and McCain. McCain's response, however, definitely has a more personal touch. He's not really saying anything (as per usual) but he sounds conversational where Obama sounded wonkish.
8:10 - Lehrer keeps trying to get them to talk to each other but so far they aren't biting. Why not? Take the opportunity to go after him directly, Obama!
Apparently, McCain has decided to debate entirely in platitudes.
8:15 - Please, please, please let Obama take advantage of the huge opening that McCain just gave him to talk about earmarks. PLEASE. OK, now we're seeing a little fight in him. But I have to say, McCain is in good form. Obama's going to have to up his game.
8:30 - I feel like Obama is giving much more substantive (and meaningful) responses, whereas McCain is just spouting talking points, but I'm afraid that John Q. Public will find McCain more persuasive or memorable or something. Erk.
Ooh, nice "using a hatchet where you need a scalpel" remark.
8:40 - Yes! Obama's getting angry! Go after him on the budget stuff! Gah, McCain tries to bring out the "mavericky" bit again. Obama better keep on hammering away at it.
8:45 - I'm getting a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. McCain is just looking so damn smug and he's coming across all folksy and I'm afraid that shit is going to play better than Obama's intelligence. I mean, is it me or is McCain actually putting Obama on the defensive? I feel like Obama needs more punchy, pithy soundbites. I hate that that's true, but I'm afraid it is.
9:00 - Again with the bracelet story? Barf-o-rama. This isn't a freaking campaign appearance, buddy. Try actually debating. NICE! Obama has a bracelet, too. Heh.
9:10 - Nice dig on the Spain thing ... McCain, of course, is operating as though Obama hasn't said anything at all and just keeps reiterating his talking points. Good that Obama keeps calling him on it. If it works. Will it help Obama or hurt him that he's waaaaay better at pronouncing foreign names?
9:30 - I think Obama gave a better/more moving answer to the 9/11 security question. But boy, McCain is really hammering the "Senator Obama just doesn't get it" meme. I wish Obama had a more effective comeback for that - I mean, clearly, it's total BS, but just waxing knowledgable about the issues (sadly) isn't enough to make that meme go away. Having said that, McCain's apparent belief that he can just say something is true to make it so (i.e., "the veterans know I love them and I'll take care of them" - despite the fact that he's screwed them a number of times) MAKES ME SICK.
(Obama gets class points for being the first to cross the stage to shake hands with the McCains after the debate.)
Summation: I really think this one is a draw. I mean, if you already know who you're voting for, your opinion is probably confirmed, but if you're still undecided I'm not sure this debate really helps. They both come off as informed and statesmanlike; neither one of them is *really* pushing at the other one. I think Obama missed some key opportunities of calling McCain on some of his bullshit - I hope in the next debate he gets more comfortable going on the attack. BTW, Think Progress did live fact-checking of the debate issues, so head over there for more substantive responses.
Edited to add - I think Ezra gets it right:
This is a pretty traditional debate performance for Obama. Strong on substance. Few mistakes. Little in the way of killer instinct or decapitating lines. McCain, by contrast, is offering an uncommonly strong performance powered, as far as I can tell, by his raging contempt for Obama. He won't look at him. He's using "what Senator Obama doesn't understand" the way Joe Biden uses "ladies and gentlemen." His constant refrain is the places he's visited, leaders he's befriended, aging advisers and presidents he's known. Obama is conveying the fact that he thinks McCain wrong. But McCain is conveying the fact that he thinks Obama an unprepared lightweight. One of these is a stronger claim than the other.