Editorial Roundup: Newspapers Weigh in on Second Presidential Debate

The following are excerpts from newspaper editorials across the country on the second presidential debate:

"Ahead in the polls, Barack Obama used last night's debate to portray himself as a nonradical if vague agent of change. Despite John McCain's best efforts, the Arizona Senator didn't knock Mr. Obama from his cool evasion or even do much to rebut the Democrat's routine talking points. This isn't enough to change the dynamics of the race."

— The Wall Street Journal

"Despite the occasional slip (referring to Mr. Obama’s "cronies" and calling him "that one"), Mr. McCain tried to take a higher road in Tuesday night’s presidential debate. It was hard to keep track of the number of times he referred to his audience as "my friends." But apart from promising to buy up troubled mortgages as president, he offered no real answers for how he plans to solve the country’s deep economic crisis. He is unable or unwilling to admit that the Republican assault on regulation was to blame.

Ninety minutes of forced cordiality did not erase the dismal ugliness of his campaign in recent weeks, nor did it leave us with much hope that he would not just return to the same dismal ugliness on Wednesday."

— The New York Times

"The debate was civil and substantive, but sometimes sounded as if it were taking place before the financial crisis.

Mr. McCain pointed a finger at Mr. Obama for failing to stand up to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while Mr. Obama called the meltdown "a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years" and cited Mr. McCain's deregulatory bent.

On the second most challenging fiscal issue — the exploding cost of health care and other entitlement spending — Mr. McCain was more realistic, though neither candidate got specific about painful details, not surprisingly in the closing weeks of a hard-fought campaign."

— The Washington Post

"The format of last night's presidential debate was supposed to favor John McCain, but Democrat Barack Obama more than held his own, showing again that he's a well-spoken candidate who can reassure voters with his command of issues.

With polls favoring Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain failed to land a big punch. He does have a winning argument about taxing and spending but must do more to make it, with little time to do so."

— Dallas Morning News

"The debate was mercifully free of the nasty personal attacks that have crept into the campaigns in the last few days. For that, the town hall format probably deserves credit.

Again, the country saw two accomplished nominees present sharply differing views on Iraq, healthcare, and the sources of the financial meltdown. McCain's mortgage-purchase plan might deflect from Obama's charge that the Arizonan was complicit in the Bush deregulation policies of recent years - the reason Obama has pulled out in front in polls - but if McCain hoped to shake that link or change the campaign's dynamic completely last night, he failed."

—Boston Globe

"Parts of Tuesday night's exchange rang familiar: McCain's extensive experience in foreign and military affairs was evident, as was Obama's commitment to multilateral diplomacy. For Americans who've followed the campaign, there was too much repetition of old talking points-Obama's criticisms about the eight-year presidency of a Republican who won't be on the ballot, McCain's complaint that Obama has never bucked the Democratic Party on a major issue. Both of those are fair shots, but neither one tells Americans whether Obama or McCain is the man to lead this nation in treacherous times. "

— Chicago Tribune

"Tuesday night's debate in Nashville, in a town hall format, did not break any significant new ground. Anyone who has followed this campaign through the long primary season and the conventions would have recognized variations of lines that have become familiar by now. Obama punctuated his points about the folly of deregulation and the Bush tax cuts and the costly distraction of the invasion of Iraq. McCain hammered at his themes of experience, oil drilling and the importance of prevailing in Iraq.

Obama attacked less, and when he did, his delivery carried less edge. He exuded the confidence of a candidate whose message of change was clearly benefiting from Americans' anxiety about one of the worst economic crises in U.S. history.

John McCain always talked about town halls as his format, but this was Barack Obama's night."

— San Francisco Chronicle

"Obama offered openings. His support for "clean coal" is oxymoronic and transparently political. His message on global warming is undermined by his support for expanded domestic oil drilling. And if the debate was sometimes frustrating — how often must McCain address us as "my friends"; how many times must we suffer Obama's praise for the moderator? — it did have clarifying moments. Here's one: McCain views healthcare as a responsibility; Obama sees it as a right. That is a genuine distinction upon which voters may hang a choice.

Neither insults nor 11th-hour initiatives will change that dynamic over the next month. What McCain needs to regain his balance is to persuade voters that he has a cogent, coherent economic proposal and a command over this dominant issue. He did not deliver either Tuesday night."

— Los Angeles Times

"John McCain is climbing uphill in his campaign, and he showed fatigue Tuesday night. The GOP presidential candidate gained no ground on a surging Barack Obama in the town hall-style debate that is supposed to be McCain’s specialty.

At times he rambled and argued over small points. Obama, ahead in the polls, made headway in reassuring the public that he has the stature and knowledge to serve as president. He maintained his composure, showed depth with his responses and at times inspired, as when he called for Americans to engage in acts of service.

Tuesday’s debate produced few truly memorable moments. But it might be remembered as the night the momentum stayed with Obama."

— The Kansas City Star