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."
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."