Analysts: No Game-Changer in First Debate

McCain "avoided some of the senior slips that he had been prone to in the primaries," while avoiding the "kind of negativity that dominated the latter half of the primary season, particularly in his exchanges with Mitt Romney."

"And Barack Obama was clear, succinct and less reflective … than he has been in previous debates," Birdsell said. "He was able to hold his own against a number of very pointed attacks from John McCain."

Birdsell said that if he had to pick a winner, he would declare a narrow victory for Obama.

"He answered questions about his fitness to lead," Birdsell said, while McCain belittled Obama too many times by repeatedly declaring that the first-term Democrat "doesn't seem to understand."

Both candidates were vague on where they stand on the specifics of the $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan taking shape in Washington. And they were similiarly hazy on how they would pay for any bailout.

Obama said spending will have to be scaled back, then cited areas he wants to spend more money on, including health care, infrastructure and energy development. McCain he would look at freezing spending, except for some of the largest areas of the budget, including defense and entitlements.

"Sen. Obama basically dodged the question," Jamieson said. "Sen. McCain succeeded marginally -- marginally -- by at least offering some alternatives.

"When one of them becomes president and confronts the budget, he is going to have to cut his plans for spending and for cutting taxes," Jamieson said. The answers Obama and McCain gave "might help them win an election ... but each man didn't do what he needed to do to govern."

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