Commentary: Sam Donaldson on Who Won the Debate and What's Next

The following is a commentary by ABC News' Sam Donaldson.

And the winner is Joe the Plumber who I'm sure is being inundated with calls today to help fix leaky faucets all over America.

The presidential candidates may not have helped everybody out of the economic ditch in their third and final debate, but they sure helped ol' Joe big time.

So, if the plumber won, who lost? That's easy, John McCain. But, you say he was much better, sharper Wednesday night than in the first two encounters. He delivered that great line to Barack Obama: "If you wanted to run against president Bush, you should have run four years ago."

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Yes, yes, all that, I agree. McCain was much better Wednesday night than in the first two debates even with the rolling of his eyes and disdainful looks that did him no good with the television audience. But, when you are significantly behind this close to Election Day -- and McCain is -- being better in a debate or even near perfect isn't good enough. Certainly not when your opponent, Obama aka Mr. Cool, shows up, stays on his game, smiles and counterpunches more in sorrow than anger and thus continues to cause a number of previously undecided voters to swoon.

Though McCain tried hard, scored some points certainly, nothing happened Wednesday night to change the fundamental direction of this race. And unless some outside event occurs which McCain cannot produce to shift the emphasis from the economy to his national security turf, this election would appear to be in the bag for Obama.

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If McCain does lose, is it mainly his fault? Will history say he lost because he was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign? I don't think so. I think history will say he had the bad luck to run in the wrong year. Consider: If McCain had run a flawless campaign in this, by all indices a Democratic year in which the Democrats are sure to strengthen their majorities in both houses of Congress and the economic crisis hit, as it did… if he had run a flawless campaign this year he, the Republican nominee, would probably still lose.

To turn Shakespeare's famous line on its head: The fault, Dear John, is not in you, but in your stars.

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Sam Donaldson, a 41-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News, from 1977-1989 and from January 1998 to August 1999, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live," from August 1989 until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. Currently, Donaldson appears on ABC News Now, the ABC News digital network, in a daily show called "Politics Live."