In one of the most meaty presidential debates ever seen on TV, presentation and policies dominated the contest, with Obama scoring well on domestic issues and McCain on foreign policy. Professional pragmatism versus smooth-talking idealism and McCain won on points.
The media is already spinning away to contact and convince voters that their man won but away from the biased reporting, the consensus seems to be that McCain had the edge.
It's all a far cry from the time when stubble-faced Nixon sweated it out with cool kid Kennedy. Now the US is facing the biggest economic meltdown since the 1930s while fighting two wars. Voters are worried about their homes and jobs. Paranoia about global Islamic terrorism takes centre stage.
Obama came across as just too rehearsed. McCain was right at home with a folksy style, talking about foreign policy. Several times Obama seemed to agree with McCain.
Obama constantly looked back, blaming Bush and McCain for everything that’s ever been wrong in the world.
McCain will not convince the die-hard Obama supporters but he held his ground and that’s what the American people are looking for.
He was cool, informed and forceful. In these hard times voters just want a strong commander-in-chief and a trusted hand on the economic tiller.
Where Obama did score better was on the domestic front, where he tried to link McCain to Bush's failed "economic philosophy".
But Obama did little to convince voters that he’s experienced enough to handle foreign affairs and defence.
Political bloggers are having a field day but in the Main stream media it's hard to get an unbiased opinion. Perhaps only the Wall Street Journal can be relied on, noting that both won in their comfort zones:
"The first Presidential debate last night was notable for playing to type. Neither candidate broke from talking points, neither one made a gaffe, and both men won on the grounds where they are most comfortable -- John McCain on foreign policy, and Barack Obama on domestic issues."
McCain needs something to lift his spirits and bounce back in his flagging polls after painful Palin's disaster of a TV interview. And last night's first set-piece TV debate may just swing it.