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Rating The Debate: Did Either Win?

Senators John McCain and Barack Obama faced off last night in the first Presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi at the University of Mississippi. Each campaign believes its candidate won the debate Friday night, but how did they really do?

To judge the nominees' performance, The Early Show asked several political consultants to rate the debate.

CBS News political analyst Joe Trippi (who served for several Democratic presidential candidates) wrote earlier this week that if voters think Barack Obama deserves to stand on the same stage as John McCain, McCain (who is behind Obama in the polls) will have lost the debate.

So did Obama prove he deserves to be there? And does that mean McCain lost the debate?

"Yeah, he sure did," Trippi told Early Show anchor Erica Hill. "When you have a foreign policy debate where John McCain is thought in the voter's mind to have more experience than Obama, and he gets through the whole debate without making a misstatement, holding his own, and people at the end either believe that he's won the debate or it's a tie - that's a push for Barack Obama. And he clearly, clearly achieved that last night.

"And that is a real problem for McCain because that's the one advantage McCain had going into this debate, was his experience on foreign policy. So, no, I think stepping back, Obama clearly won last night.

CNN political analyst Amy Holmes (and former speechwriter for Republican Sen. Bill Frist) thought it was possible both candidates won last night.

"On the one hand I thought John McCain won on substance. When this got to national policy, foreign policy, national security going into this debate, Barack Obama's people said this was John McCain's turf. They were right, and John McCain showed that he was fluent, he was comfortable, and he was ready to take the reins on day one. But Barack Obama, he won by not losing. There were no major gaps. He looked like he could tackle these issues.

"I talk to real people and get e-mails from my friends who are not in the political sphere. They said it looked like John McCain knew this stuff from life where Barack Obama was getting it from a textbook, but look at the American voter: In 2000 George Bush didn't have all of that experience and he became president of the United States over Al Gore! I think the voters will be making their own decision, [but ] when it comes to substance, John McCain was far way ahead."

On the economy, which intruded on the debate's original itinerary, Holmes felt that neither debater conveyed to the public that they "get it."

"I think both of them punted on this," she told Hill. "We had the first 40 minutes on the economy and both of them, they kind of went to their corners and they talked on their talking points. They didn't talk about the big issue of the day: $700 billion from the taxpayer going to the companies on Wall Street to get out of this mess. I don't think either came out ahead on that issue."

Trippi agreed: "I agree that neither one of them really gave us anything to sink our teeth into there."

But Trippi thought McCain needed to disqualify Obama, and failed. "He needed to come into this debate and show that he was head and shoulders ahead of Obama on all of these foreign policy issues and disqualify Obama. Had he done that, it would have been the moment to turn the election. He didn't achieve that. Obama showed that he belonged there. Both of them punted on the economic issues. But the fact that Obama held his own with McCain is not good news for the McCain campaign."

CBS News was told by some Republican consultants that basically in the last few days, what John McCain had done ("suspending" his campaign and bringing presidential politics to the bailout negotiations in Washington) was catastrophic, with some of them saying he looked panicked.

"He needed a win, not a tie last night. Did he pull it off?" Hill asked Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

Madden, vice president of the Glover Park Group, said that the debate was largely a draw because both candidates did exactly what they needed to do.

"John McCain needed to show he is the more experienced candidate, that he is the candidate that has better command and control of these issues. And Barack Obama needed to sort of close the stature gap. He needed to hold his own with John McCain, and he largely did that. These presidential debates are largely defined by big moments, either bad or good. There really weren't many of those last night.

CBS News consultant Dee Dee Myers, who was press secretary in the Clinton White House, agreed.

"I think Kevin is right, there wasn't a knockout blow on either side," she said, "but Senator Obama's mission was to go in there and show he could be the commander in chief and has command of the issues that the world is facing. I think he did a good job of that. I think McCain was strong as well but I think Obama accomplished a little bit more of what he needed to do.

"People who are watching said they were much more likely after the debate to say they thought that Senator Obama would be a credible president, a credible commander in chief approximate, and if that holds - these poll results sometimes dissipate over time - that's a huge step forward for Senator Obama, and then on to the next debates which will focus less on foreign policy and more on domestic policy."

The next debate is actually between the vice presidential nominees, with so much attention being paid to Republican Sarah Palin, who garnered a great deal of criticism over interview with Katie Couric earlier this week.

"Is there a lot of concern, Kevin, within the Republican camp as to whether or not she can pull off what she needs to do next Thursday?" Hill asked.

He thought the concern was with how Palin is being "rolled out" to the public and the press. "Somebody who doesn't have as much experience and doesn't have that much time before the national audience has been rolled out with very big national interviews, rather than going out there where she is best, which is meeting in town halls meeting in VFWs around the country and engaging with voters and showcasing her experience and her accomplishments as a chief executive. That is probably the best frame that the McCain campaign is going to need to really showcase Sarah Palin."

"We've seen a lot of Sarah Palin over the last several weeks," Myers said, "and we've seen her winning personality, her optimism, her confidence. She clearly is comfortable in front of a big crowd. What she hasn't done much of, as Kevin pointed out, is answer questions from the media about substance. As she has started to do that more, she has not stood up to the questions well.

"I thought Katie Couric's interview was infinitely fair, and they were issues of the day and weren't 'gotcha' or down in the weeds or anything. And I think she was unable to answer them. We'll see if she gets prepped better for the debate this week with Senator Joe Biden.

"The debate, unlike last night's debate between Senators McCain and Obama, will be much more structured; they'll have three minutes for an answer and a very specific time for rebuttal. I think that format favors candidates who aren't as prepared. I think we'll see how she does, but it will be a high stakes moment for her and for Senator McCain's campaign more broadly.

"This woman could be a heartbeat away from the presidency, to quote an oft-quoted cliché," Myers said.

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