The Note: 'That One'

NASHVILLE -- John McCain wanted to have 10 of these?

The town-hall meeting may have been Sen. John McCain's salvation in the primaries, but McCain and Sen. Barack Obama roamed the stage for 90 minutes to end up basically where they started. (Here's guessing Gov. Sarah Palin doesn't spy any gloves on the mat.)

It was a status quo debate, in a solidifying contest, and McCain didn't win in a clash he needed to be all his. For a campaign looking for pivot points, for big ways to change the direction of a race that has veered out of its control, there's not much in place Wednesday that wasn't there Tuesday. (And the ongoing market meltdown probably would have swamped it anyway.)

Your consensus: McCain lost, by not winning. Even the Jell-O didn't stick. He now has precisely one opportunity left to command the simultaneous attention of the assembled press corps and the nation at large -- and it might come too late to move the big rocks assembled in his path.

"If McCain's principal mission was to change the course of the campaign, it was difficult to find evidence that he succeeded," Doyle MacManus writes in the Los Angeles Times. "In a debate that served largely as an empathy competition, the two candidates battled to something like a draw."

Politico's Roger Simon: "If you had to say somebody lost Tuesday night, it was McCain. Because he had to win and he did not. He is the one who has to change the current trajectory of the campaign, and he did not do that."

ABC's George Stephanopoulos scores it for Obama, with an A on substance, compared with McCain's B+: "It was Obama who once again edged out McCain in the debate, sticking to his strategy of portraying himself ready to serve as president. . . . We saw Obama continue with the strategy that he started with in the first debate: showing that he belongs up there on that stage as a potential Commander-in-Chief. That is where Obama made his greatest advances tonight, and he will likely be seen as the winner of this debate."

CNN polling called it 54-30 for Obama; CBS' uncommitted voters had it 40-26 in the same direction.

The clip that's destined for a thousand replays: McCain calling Obama "That One." (Did he mean, "The One"?)

"Senator Obama has a name," Obama strategist David Axelrod said in the post-debate spin room, per ABC's Teddy Davis and Arnab Datta. "You'd expect your opponent to use that name."

Countered McCain adviser Steve Schmidt: "Diversionary on their part."

Dismissive, yes, world-changing, no. But it's an easy soundbite for the left to jump on: "The snarled 'that one' also contributed to McCain's image as a kind of mean old Scrooge, not so much a battle-scarred warrior as an embittered one," Tom Shales writes in his Washington Post column. " 'Intemperate' is an adjective often applied to him, and again McCain demonstrated why."

Does it play this way? "With a black man running, it's even easier for [Lee] Atwater's disciple running McCain's campaign to warn that white Americans should not open the door to the dangerous Other, or 'That One,' as McCain referred to Obama in Tuesday night's debate," Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times column. "(A cross between 'The One' and 'That Woman.')"

Sen. Joe Biden swings back at Palin Wednesday morning, for the tone she's setting on the trail: "This really is a case where when you don't have anything to talk about, attack -- and I think that's really over the edge," Biden told ABC's Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America."

"Some of the stuff she's saying about Obama and some of the stuff people are yelling from the crowd, if she hears it she should be able to say 'Whoa whoa whoa, that's overboard.' This is volatile stuff and I thought we were kind of beyond this place."

Palin, on the press plane Tuesday night, keeping up the pressure on Bill Ayers: "It is pertinent, it's important because when you consider Barack Obama's reaction to and explanation to his association there, and without him being clear at all on what he knew and when he knew it, that I think kinda peaks into his ability to tell us the truth on, not only on association but perhaps other things also," she said, per ABC's Imtiyaz Delawala.

McCain brought a housing proposal with him to Nashville (was that what he was marking up all night?), but didn't have much else he could call "new."

"At a point in the race when McCain badly needs to shake things up, the debate was short on the sort of fireworks that could alter the campaign's trajectory," John McCormick and Jill Zuckman write in the Chicago Tribune.

Every day that goes by like this is a day Obama draws closer to the presidency.

"A sedate debate, with no Sarah Palin sizzle," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "And because there was no game-changer that I saw for McCain, Obama continues on his trajectory towards winning the White House."

"The calendar says John McCain has nearly a month to reverse his slide, but don't believe it. If McCain doesn't quickly counter Barack Obama's growing lead, the election will be over before November gets here," Michael Goodwin writes in the New York Daily News.

If you think McCain won -- was it decisive enough? "Even if [Obama] loses the debates on points -- which he probably has in both -- he still wins politically if he doesn't take any catastrophic blows or make any discrediting gaffes," Rich Lowry writes for the New York Post. "He didn't last night, and it's starting to look as though he's practically incapable of doing so. Unflappable, indeed."

"Now we know why John McCain kept pushing for town halls," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times. "Trailing in the polls, Mr. McCain came to mix it up. But he was often swinging at a shadowy target. Mr. Obama was nimble and professorial, content to hang back, spend his time bashing President Bush and play the honest broker to Mr. McCain's repeated attacks."

At The Brody File, David Brody calls it "a win for McCain. But do wins matter at this point? This isn't so much about who won or who lost. This is about which candidate can really connect with voters on the economy."

At least "that one" showed up -- since so many other great characters (Ayers, Rezko, Keating, Wright) didn't. (A great night, though, for Warren Buffet -- need more proof that the Omaha congressional district is in play?)

But Ayers will return -- a quick trip through the spin room made clear he's still on McCain aides' minds, with calls for Obama to offer a full accounting of their relationship.

GOP hands heard just enough last night to build out a still-growing (yes, this late) argument on truth and trust.

New from the McCain camp Wednesday: The latest ad to ask, "Who is Barack Obama?"

"ANNCR: The National Journal says he's the Senate's most liberal. How extreme. But when pressed, how does he defend himself? OBAMA: 'They're not telling the truth. I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying.' ANNCR: Mr. Obama, we all know the truth. OBAMA: 'Folks are lying.' ANNCR: Not presidential."

Time for more risks, and things folks didn't say Tuesday: "Ground has shifted to Sen. Obama's advantage, meaning he has less reason to take risks and a strong incentive to play it safe. Sen. McCain, by contrast, needs to take more chances, and has a motivation to try riskier plays," Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Much as it was clear going into the debate which candidate was ahead, it was clear as the event unfolded which candidate wanted to shake up the race."

"McCain played the role of the aggressor throughout the 90-minute debate, accusing his Democratic rival of favoring major tax and spending increases and of relying too often on big government programs to reshape the nation's health-care system. He said he would do more to shake up Washington and bring cooperation to the capital," Dan Balz, Anne E. Kornblut, and Michael Abramowitz write in The Washington Post. "But while he was aggressive, McCain steered clear of those kinds of personal attacks. Instead, he laid out his differences with Obama largely on policy grounds, and repeatedly questioned whether his rival has the judgment and experience to run the country."

A disappointment, like one of those Tyson fights that ended in like 19 seconds? "The 90-minute town hall forum at Belmont University's Curb Event Center was tepid compared with the pre-debate hype that McCain would attack Obama's character and Obama would respond in kind," Bill Theobold writes in The Tennessean.

"He was stymied by a format -- one McCain himself originally requested -- that, by changing questioners and topics so frequently, precluded a game-changing moment," Dana Milbank reports in The Washington Post. "And Obama deftly preempted potential McCain attacks by reminding the audience, 'Look, you're not interested in hearing politicians pointing fingers.' That left McCain firing with a small-gauge weapon."

The New York Times' Adam Nagourney finds an "often stifled" encounter -- and guess which candidate needs breathing room? "There was no indication that the debate did anything to change the course of a campaign that appeared to be moving in Mr. Obama's direction," he writes. "There were no obvious dramatic breakthrough moments by Mr. McCain; indeed, although the two men pummeled back and forth, it was Mr. Obama who more consistently drew sharp contrasts between the voting records and campaign promises of the two."

McCain had so many things to do that he may not have fully done any of them: "Sometimes sarcastic and sometimes sincere, McCain seemed off-balance in a way that undermined his much-repeated claim of being 'a cool hand at the tiller,' " Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe. "Obama, who did not particularly excel at Town Hall-style debates during the primaries -- sometimes seeming lordly or professorial -- was better than McCain last night at connecting with audience members on their own terms."

(Which side complained more mightily about the moderator? What does that say about honest assessments of the respective performances?)

Lesson learned? "Obama smiled through the attacks, but he was less generous with his praise than he'd been during their previous meeting in Mississippi," Newsweek's Richard Wolffe writes. "At the end, Obama was still standing, and smiling. On to Round Three."

"Obama answered by looking forward, casting himself as the candidate with the fresh ideas to restore fairness to the economy, help the middle class survive the financial crisis, and improve America's standing in the world," Scott Helman and Susan Milligan write in The Boston Globe.

Worst attempt at a humorous dig, McCain edition: "Nailing down Senator Obama's tax proposals is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall."

Worst attempt at a humorous dig, Obama edition: "You know, the Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that."

McCain tried to play happy warrior -- but didn't have much to smile about. "Neither candidate was selling morning in America. At times it seemed more like a competition to see who could paint the gloaming in the least unsettling hues," Frank Bruni writes in The New York Times. "Candidates' voices communicated anger less often than mere frustration. The decibel level was sometimes whispery and the gestures usually muted. There were no exaggerated huffs, no big laughs, no long sighs."

(And Bruni does the count: Sen. Joe Lieberman gets four McCain mentions, Gov. Sarah Palin zero.)

Your full fact-checking from the ABC News team -- on Fannie and Freddie, pork-barrel spending, taxes, computers, and even the "town meeting" concept.

Moving on from Nashville: "Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama left here with the presidential campaign unavoidably shifted to the topic of economic crisis and onto the electoral terrain of traditionally conservative states," Politico's Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith write. "McCain's decision to use Tuesday's debate to roll out a dramatic new housing plan -- and to downplay an extended weekend of personal attacks on Obama -- appeared to mark a recognition that, after two consecutive days of the Dow plummeting and financial hemorrhaging abroad, the market meltdown is not likely to move from the center of the campaign."

Try to digest the impact of this edge in a race that's showing separation: "Barack Obama is outspending John McCain at nearly a three-to-one clip on television time in the final weeks of the presidential election, according to ad buy information obtained by The Fix, a financial edge that is almost certainly contributing to the momentum for the Illinois senator in key battleground states," per the scoop from's Chris Cillizza. "A detailed look at campaign spending on ads over the last week shows clearly how Obama is using his financial edge over McCain. In 13 of the 15 states where both candidates were on television, Obama outspent McCain -- in some states, drastically."

Expect McCain to keep talking about his homeownership proposal -- whether it's really new or not. "Scrambling to repair his image on economic issues, Senator John McCain proposed during Tuesday night's debate a $300 billion plan authorizing the treasury secretary to buy the mortgages of homeowners in financial trouble and replace them with more affordable loans," per The New York Times' Jackie Calmes. "The campaign of Senator Barack Obama quickly countered by saying that the financial rescue plan that President Bush signed into law last week already gave the treasury secretary such power. And, his advisers noted, Mr. Obama recommended such a step in a news conference nearly two weeks ago."

"It was big. It was dramatic. But it wasn't very Republican," Time's David Von Drehle writes. "Somewhere, Ronald Reagan shuddered."

Does it fit a broader message, or is this a new message altogether? "McCain has based his presidential bid in part on frequent calls for cuts in government spending and regulation. His housing bailout proposal was a surprise in a debate that could prove a crucial pivot as the race enters its final month," Bob Drogin and Maura Reynolds report in the Los Angeles Times.

The Obama campaign cuts a quick health-care cable ad out of the debate: "He says that he's going to give you a 5,000 dollar tax credit. What he doesn't tell you is that he's going to tax your employer based health care benefits, for the first time ever…so what one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away. . . . John McCain . . . instead of fixing health care, he wants to tax it."

(Notice that this portion of the battleground remains particularly active.)

And how does this square (as we wait for complete medical records): "Barack Obama says he sometimes treats himself to a cigarette on the campaign trail," per the New York Daily News' Michael Saul. "Obama, who supposedly quit smoking at his wife's insistence in 2006, told Men's Health magazine he has bummed a few cigarettes during the White House race." "But I figure, seeing as I'm running for president, I need to cut myself a little slack," said Obama.

(Will truth-squadding Republicans let a few drags slide?)

The Sked:

Reunited on the campaign trail, John McCain and Sarah Palin hold two joint rallies on Wednesday-- first in Bethlehem, Pa., at 1:35 pm ET and then in Strongsville, Ohio at 5:15 pm ET.

Barack Obama holds his own early afternoon rally in Indianapolis. He sits down with ABC's Charles Gibson Wednesday (it's McCain's turn Thursday in Wisconsin), as ABC's "50 States in 50 Days" continues with a "World News" bus tour that wraps up Friday.

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama holds at 11:30 am ET in Keene, N.H., and makes her "Daily Show" debut Wednesday night, in addition to "Larry King Live."

After doing the morning rounds, Joe Biden rejoins the trail with community gatherings in Florida -- the first in Tampa at 10:30 am ET and the second in Fort Myers at 5:30 pm ET.

Also in the news:

The RNC is calling Barack Obama "crazy" -- no, not in THAT way. Per ABC News: "The Republican National Committee is launching a new ad Wednesday that blasts Sen. Barack Obama's new spending proposals as 'crazy,' ramping up GOP attacks in five battleground states -- and continuing to position the RNC in opposition to the Wall Street bailout package."

Tom Friedman turns the corner on Sarah Palin: "How in the world can conservative commentators write with a straight face that this woman should be vice president of the United States? Do these people understand what serious trouble our country is in right now?"

Cindy McCain weighs in on the race: Obama has "waged the dirtiest campaign in American history," she said Tuesday, per The Tennessean's Kate Howard.

What's left on the shrinking map: "Republican presidential nominee John McCain still hopes to flip a handful of traditionally Democratic states in November, even as his campaign has dispatched running mate Sarah Palin to shaky Republican territory to energize the party's conservative base," The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes reports. "The McCain campaign said it remains committed to Pennsylvania and Ohio, which account for a combined 41 electoral votes. Although it has pulled out of Michigan, the McCain campaign holds out hope for Wisconsin, with 10 electoral votes."

Target Florida: "If there is one issue that cuts across Florida, it is the economic reckoning of the past two weeks," Sridhar Pappu writes in the Washington Independent. "The young professionals who fostered growth along the I-4 corridor find themselves beset with angst over their prosperity and the future of their children. The elderly wonder if their investments and savings can keep them afloat in retirement."

And Palin is working it down there: "The line of Sarah Palin fans on Tuesday stretched through downtown neighborhoods like an Alaskan pipeline," Rebekah Allen reports in the Pensacola News-Journal, under the headline, "Palin Mania."

"On a two-day, five-rally campaign swing through Florida, Ms. Palin was met by an enthusiastic response from audiences who devoured every word of her anti-Democratic pitch," Julie Bosman reports in The New York Times. (More class from the crowd: "Treason!" yelled one man, after Palin quoted disapprovingly quoted Obama.)

What about those Clinton folks? "Sen. John McCain may share the Republican ticket with the party's first female vice presidential nominee, but Gov. Sarah Palin hasn't widely won over disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters. Some say the Alaska governor is having the opposite effect: driving them to back Democratic nominee Barack Obama," per The Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick.

A sign of strength against the dollar? "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has raised about $3.3 million from contributors who did not list a home state or who designated their state with an abbreviation that did not match one of the 50 states or U.S. territories, according to records provided by the Federal Election Commission," per the AP. "Most of those contributors did identify themselves as living abroad in foreign cities. Under federal law, foreign citizens cannot make political contributions, but U.S. citizens living abroad can."

From the frontlines of voter fraud: "A Nevada voter-fraud task force Tuesday raided the state headquarters of a Democrat-allied organization that works to get low-income people to vote, setting off a skirmish over efforts to expand the electorate on behalf of Sen. Barack Obama," writes S.A. Miller of the Washington Times. "Authorities searched the Las Vegas office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, which is accused of submitting multiple voter registrations with duplicate and false names, including names of former Dallas Cowboys players."

"Troopergate" update: "With his Troopergate report due Friday, legislative investigator Steve Branchflower appears to have the makings of a fairly complete account, despite weeks of resistance from the Palin family and administration," Wesley Loy writes in the Anchorage Daily News. "Branchflower has, or soon will have, answers from nearly all the people he'd hoped to question regarding Gov. Sarah Palin's firing in July of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan."

Back at work for Obama: "Oprah Winfrey joins the lineup for an Obama fund-raising weekend in Chicago aimed at female donors at the $2,300-per-person event starting Friday," Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Boss speaks: "Now is the time to stand with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, roll up our sleeves, and come on up for the rising," Bruce Springsteen told a crowd in Philadelphia.

The Kicker:

"Mama grizzly. You raise up and want to protect your cubs." -- Sarah Palin, explaining to a local TV interviewer that what hurts her most about the campaign has been attacks on her children.

"I wish I had that much hair." -- Joe Biden, on "GMA" Wednesday, asked about being the subject of "Saturday Night Live" impersonations.

"Tonight's debate is called 'Townhall style.' Which means instead of ignoring the moderator's questions, the candidates can ignore the voters directly." -- Jay Leno.

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