Two Debates Down, Two Wins for Obama

George Stephanopoulos grades McCain and Obama's second presidential debate.

Oct. 8, 2008 — -- Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama squared off in their second town hall-style presidential debate taking questions from voters at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday night.

It was Obama who once again edged out McCain in the debate, sticking to his strategy of portraying himself ready to serve as president.

Report Card: Winner: Obama

Strategy: Obama (A) McCain (B+)

McCain started out strong by pledging to require the federal government to buy up all of the nation's bad mortgages.

He showed real compassion and empathy as he sought to shore up his credentials on the economic crisis.

"It is my proposal," McCain said. "It's not Sen. Obama's proposal. It's not President Bush's proposal."

With polls showing more that Americans believe Obama is better able to handle the economic crisis, it was a smart move McCain had to make.

The McCain campaign quickly circulated McCain's mortgage plan, which the campaign estimates would cost taxpayers $300 billion.

McCain's plan seems to be based off a proposal that President Bush's former economic adviser Glenn Hubbard wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week, and the Obama campaign says that the rescue plan that passed Congress last week already gives the Treasury secretary this authority even if lawmakers didn't put a price tag on it.

But as the debate went on, we began to see the substantial differences between the two candidates on taxes, on health care and on foreign policy.

Obama began to make real progress rebutting the false charge that he's going to increase taxes on all Americans, arguing that health care is a fundamental right and questioning McCain's judgment in voting for the war against Iraq.

Striking an emotional chord, Obama connected his health-care plan with his mother, who died of cancer.

"It should be a right for every American, in a country as wealthy as ours … for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in a hospital room arguing with insurance companies who say it was a pre-existing condition, and they don't have to pay her treatment, there's something fundamentally wrong with that," Obama said.

Striking back at a McCain charge that Obama "doesn't understand" foreign policy, Obama said, "It's true, there are some things I don't understand. I don't understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 while Osama bin Laden set up safe havens for terrorists."

In this debate 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 Tuesday night and he will likely be seen as the winner of this debate.

Style: Obama (A-) McCain (A-)

McCain was extremely comfortable in the town hall-style format, walking the stage, calling voters by name and at one point shaking hands with service member Terry Shirey, a questioner in the hall.

"Thanks for serving," McCain told Shirey.

The Arizona senator likes town hall debates, and that showed. McCain had previously challenged Obama to more town hall debates but the negotiations broke down.

Obama's style was more subdued and explanatory. He gained style points when the cameras showed him smiling repeatedly as McCain verbally attacked him. Obama appeared unflappable, and yet at one point firmly insisted he wanted to correct the record when McCain mischaracterized his tax plan.

Obama's steady, calm demeanor may be paying off. In the last three weeks, America has struggled against the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and polls show voters now view the Illinois senator as the safe choice on the economy.

Accuracy: Obama (A-) McCain (B+)

McCain mischaracterized Obama's tax plan when he claimed that Obama had voted to raise taxes 94 times, which is not true. McCain also falsely claimed that 50 percent of small businesses will get a tax increase under Obama's plan -- that is simply not true.

The bottom line is that Obama is now 2 for 2. He showed during the course of the two debates the number-one question that Americans have of him: Does he have the experience it takes to serve as president? During the course of three hours he is answering that question minute by minute.

For more George Stephanopoulos analysis of the 2008 electoral map click HERE.