(h/t John Aravosis)
FL – St. Petersburg Times (Editorial) "McCain's last offensive:" On the same day a new poll showed that voters' confidence in the federal government has reached an all-time low, Obama spoke with a reassuring confidence…But when the questioning turned to campaign attacks by both sides, McCain could not contain his anger and lost much of his momentum. He again floated some dark connection between Obama and 1960s-era antigovernment radical Bill Ayers. When that punch failed to ruffle Obama, McCain ramped up his intensity. The split television screen displayed a candidate who gradually appeared more frustrated, condescending and dismissive of one who would not take the bait. Those facial expressions will not play well in the coming days.
WI – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Editorial) "The attack debate:" John McCain went into the final presidential debate on Wednesday looking for a game-changer, the need to reverse plummeting fortunes as measured by polls and likely fueled by national economic difficulties that do not favor members of the party now possessing the White House. Time - and an election - will tell, but our guess is that McCain missed the mark if that was his goal.
MO – Kansas City Star (Editorial) "Attacks can't shake Obama in debate:" Over the three presidential debates, Democrat Barack Obama has largely answered doubts about his readiness to be president of the United States. His unflappable temperament, thoughtful demeanor and rhetorical abilities were impressive. Republican John McCain's performances were more uneven, becoming increasingly aggressive.
MI - Detroit Free Press (Stephen Henderson) "Striving to get back in the game, McCain looks more desperate": It was probably unrealistic for anyone to believe that Republican presidential candidate John McCain could right the sinking ship of his campaign with a debate performance, but Wednesday night's encounter with Democrat Barack Obama only seemed to reinforce the idea that McCain is badly behind, and desperate. Here was McCain, answering a question about the negative tone of his campaign — and the very frightening tenor of recent rallies for McCain — by talking about the negativity of Obama's campaign, saying Obama's failure to agree to more than 10 town hall meetings was the reason things turned so negative. But overall, it was hard not to think of this campaign as largely over while watching the debate. Of course, anything can happen in the next few weeks, and history says the race will almost certainly tighten. John McCain, though, looked like a guy about to lose and fully aware of the desperation of his circumstances.
Des Moines Register (David Yepsen) "Obama Bests McCain In Final Debate" John McCain lost the final debate of the 2008 presidential campaign Wednesday night…McCain simply needed a breakout performance and he failed to provide one. He went into the forum trailing Obama in polls of the contest and he came out of in the same position. By doing so, McCain missed his biggest remaining opportunity to change the direction of the presidential contest.
MN – Duluth News Tribune (Staff Written) "Local and national online polls give nod to Obama:" News Tribune readers who answered an unscientific online poll Wednesday said Sen. Barack Obama won the third and final presidential debate over Sen. John McCain. Of 112 readers who voted between 9:30 and 11 p.m., 59 percent said Obama won while 41 percent said McCain won. [According to one reader] "I felt that the cool, calm, collected nature of Barack Obama was welcomed and needed in these already stressful and uncertain times of crisis. To me the long-standing reputation of John McCain as a maverick and a reformer was overpowered by his cynicism, sarcasm and smugness." [said] Adam White of Duluth.
OH – Columbus Dispatch (Darrel Rowland) "Undecided's dial it up for Obama:" Fifty women gathered in a Columbus hotel's conference room and got to do what millions of Americans probably wanted to do last night: Tell the presidential candidates exactly what they thought of them….This group of undecided voters' opinions were recorded every second of the 90-minute debate. The result? A major win for Democrat Barack Obama. Seventy-one percent of these undecided voters thought Obama did better in addressing the issues important to them, while only 9 percent felt that way about Republican John McCain. The group slightly favored Obama coming into the debate, but afterward he won support by about a 2-to-1 ratio.
PA – The Philadelphia Inquirer (Larry Eichel) "Some jabs, but there was no knockout:" Republican John McCain, desperately trying to launch a comeback with less than three weeks to go, was on the offensive all night, intense and focused. But Democrat Barack Obama had the same calm and steady presence he'd shown in their two previous encounters, answering some of McCain's attacks and shrugging off others, saying that the voters want to hear about their own problems instead. When it was all over, even though the debate was somewhat more contentious than the previous two, the likelihood was that nothing much had changed in the shape of the campaign. The first round of post-debate polls had Obama the overwhelming winner, as was the case in the previous two.
PA – Philadelphia Daily News (John Baer) It was an often angry, sometimes manic McCain trying to knock Obama off his cool at a time when voters are telling pollsters that they want a calm and steady hand steering the nation out of its economic crisis. Obama was his usual reserved self, often smiling and shaking his head instead of counterpunching. He patiently, even indulgently, explained and defended his programs and his campaign.
New York Post (Kirsten Powers) "Bam Gets Job Done" Even when McCain was substantively on point, his body language and tone were a distraction. McCain's facial expressions were akin to Al Gore's sighs in the 2000 debates with George W. Bush. At times McCain was downright nasty, speaking in sarcastic and condescending tones. Toward the end of the debate when they discussed education, McCain spoke to Obama with something bordering on disgust. Considering polls show that voters already view the McCain campaign as overly negative, this behavior couldn't have won over many people.
Boston Globe (Editorial) "Scattershot McCain" John McCain's fiery performance in the final presidential debate last night may have given a lift to some despondent supporters who have watched the election getting away from them. But it is less clear that McCain's buckshot approach hit its target…The stock market is in freefall. Basic needs are more expensive than ever. The very planet is in peril. These are serious concerns that face America's future. Yet, in a debate that McCain needed to win, he seemed fixated on some deluded throwback from the Vietnam era.
Los Angeles Times (Editorial) "McCain's debatable strategy" Throughout, Obama adopted a look of incredulity, but even his reserve was cracked by McCain's pivot out of the politics of personal attack. Immediately after demanding that Obama provide a full accounting of his relationships with ACORN and Ayers, McCain asserted: "My campaign is about getting this economy back on track, about creating jobs, about a brighter future for America." That disjointed segue was too much for Obama, who laughed.
Boston Globe (Scot Lehigh) "It's not even close": John McCain came into the final presidential debate needing a game-changer, a Ronald Reagan moment, a Jerry Ford-like blunder by Barack Obama, something - anything - that would reverse the strengthening tide now running hard against him. He didn't get it. Not even close.
Boston Globe (Joan Vennochi) "That's it for McCain": Its Over. John McCain still hasn't told the country why he should be president. He has talking points. He is against taxes, earmarks, and pork. But he can't knit what he opposes into a coherent economic philosophy that would inspire voters to get behind him in the final days of this presidential campaign. He has an inspirational life story. But in this campaign, he never connected his biography to his presidential ambition, and he never told voters how it would shape a McCain administration and make him a better president than his opponent.
New York Daily News (Thomas M. DeFrank) "Feisty John McCain works hard, can't score" It was John McCain's last big chance to tame the massive headwinds buffeting his fading campaign…Barack Obama came into the Hofstra debate handily ahead. Nothing Wednesday night altered that stark reality for McCain and his dispirited partisans.
New York Post (Carl Campanile) "Barack Rocks With Post Panel" The results are in and the winner is . . . Barack Obama… McCain's decision to attack Obama for his associations with 1960s Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers and the group ACORN backfired with The Post's panel of voters. Upper West resident Anne Maxfield said, "Ayers was a terrorist 40 years ago. We have serious economic problems in this country."
Los Angeles Times (Cathleen Decker) John McCain came into the third and final presidential debate needing to somehow wrestle the campaign out of Barack Obama's arms. He did not do it. There was no single moment that was likely to reverberate in the minds of American voters and change the course of an election that has moved dramatically toward Obama in the last several weeks. But the 90-minute debate was a perfect distillation of McCain's general election campaign, with all of its inconsistent messages.
TIME (David Von Drehle) "McCain Threw the Sink — and Plumber — But Obama Doesn't Falter" The problem for McCain is that no matter how hard or how crisply he punched, it could not last. In the end, the gravity of the debate returned to Barack Obama. The turning point was when McCain finally brought up the issue of Obama's ties to former the anti-Vietnam War terrorist William Ayers. All he accomplished was to swing the spotlight from himself back to the engaging newcomer. Predictably, Obama had a mild answer ready-as straightforward and uncontroversial as it was soothing… Mostly he tried to say that Obama-change is dangerous. Across the table, there sat Obama, looking not very dangerous.
Washington Post (Dana Milbank) Schieffer moved on to another question -- and Ayers and ACORN, after a five-minute cameo, were gone. In those five minutes, the Republican nominee became the man America had seen in his ads, whose slashing personal attacks on his opponent's character have, by most measures, done him more harm than good. Perhaps mindful of that, or perhaps set back by Obama's mild responses to his attacks, McCain, though delivering sharper jabs than he had in the earlier debates, was unwilling, or unable, to mount a sustained effort to undermine Obama's personal standing.
New York Times (Patrick Healy) "Pressing All the Buttons, McCain Attacks, but Obama Stays Steady": But then Mr. McCain began to undercut his own effort to paint Mr. Obama as just another negative politician. Mr. McCain grew angry as he attacked Mr. Obama over his ties to William Ayers, the Chicago professor who helped found the Weather Underground terrorism group. Suddenly, Mr. McCain was no longer gaining ground by showing command on the top issue for voters, the economy; he was turning tetchy over a 1960s radical…It seemed as if Mr. McCain was veering from one hot button to another, pressing them all, hoping to goad Mr. Obama into an outburst or a mistake that would alter the shape of the race in its last three weeks.
Newsweek (Richard Wolffe) "Mad Man" McCain didn't just need a game-changing moment at the debate; the Arizona senator, known in Washington for his sharp temper, needed a character-changing moment… Whatever happens in the next two weeks, the McCain campaign should be happy there are no more presidential debates.
Boston Globe (Todd Domke) "Good, but not good enough": John McCain needed to turn this third debate into a second chance. He needed to persuade undecided voters to look at him in a new, positive way and to look at Barack Obama in a new, negative way. He needed to change the dynamic of the contest because, ever since the economic crisis struck, Obama has had the advantages in message, momentum, money, and media…But it wasn't the dramatic breakthrough he needed, so, in effect, he lost.
The Hill (Sam Youngman) "Debate sees an aggressive McCain and a cool Obama:" With less than three weeks before Election Day, Sen. McCain (Ariz.) had promised to go after Obama more forcefully in their last meeting, and he did just that, accusing the Illinois senator of lying, wanting to raise taxes and associating with unscrupulous people and organizations. The Democrat, however, knowing that McCain needed a knockout blow, seemed to take McCain's best punches, explaining himself when warranted and focusing on the ongoing financial crisis and domestic policy at other times.
Politico (John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei) "Debate III: Edgy McCain sheds no new light": John McCain's challenge at the final debate was to present his case for the presidency in a new light. But over 90 minutes of intense exchanges with Barack Obama—sometimes compelling, often awkward—-there was very little new light, and no obvious reason for McCain to be optimistic that he has turned his troubled campaign in a new direction. To the contrary, what McCain offered at Hofstra University was simply a more intense, more glaring version of his campaign in familiar light —- an edgy, even angry performance that in many ways seemed like a metaphor for his unfocused, wildly improvisational campaign.
Politico (Roger Simon) "McCain fails, Obama is not rattled" John McCain needed a miracle in his final debate with Barack Obama on Wednesday night, a miracle that would wipe away McCain's deficit in the polls and re-energize his flagging campaign. He did not get one.