This debate was a significant night for Barack Obama. Why? Economic policy and foreign policy. I've made this point before but it bears repeating.
Last year at the Australian election, the eventual centre-left winner, Kevin Rudd, never overtook John Howard on the issue of national security. But he did enough to give people confidence that he wouldn't flub it when he was in government. Barack Obama just did that.
How? Read on.
Opinion polls on National security are inherently misleading because people associate the issue of national security with the Conservative brand name.
The task for any centre-left challenger is to appear moderate and knowledgeable on the issue of foreign and defense policy. They don't have to beat their conservative challenger on the issue in the polls, because quite frankly, it would be a rare thing indeed if a democrat was considered better than a republican on national security. It probably hasn't been that way since the days of JFK. But that isn't the point.
The single biggest reason why this debate was good for Obama is because he looked absolutely calm, credible and comfortable talking about issues of national security. John McCain needed to really crush Obama on this issue, but he didn't. Some are calling this issue a draw in the debate. If that's the case, and Obama can keep the "draw" going until election day, this election is a no-brainer. McCain kept trying to throw the barbs about naivete and inexperience, but it didn't resonate with what people were seeing of Obama right next to him. Obama seemed mostly unflappable. When McCain claimed something about Obama's record that was incorrect, Obama made sure he interrupted to correct the record. Every time he did this, he looked very good. McCain occasionally looked like he was throwing barbs without much substance behind them.
The other important thing was that Obama needed to press home his advantage on the economy. He linked the economy to foreign policy in a few spots, which was a very smart thing to do. A very good line of attack Obama has at his disposal is that America can't afford to be in Iraq any more if they're going to be spending 700 billion dollars bailing out Wall Street.
The other thing to note is that the style of this debate really helped Obama. He is not quite the quintessential sound byte politician, his answers usually are slightly more long winded. That's probably why the Obama campaign has been running 1-2 minute ads of him lately.
But it was his ability to talk at length in this format (and the allowance for interruptions to correct his own record) that actually helped people get a sense of where he stood, something he has been finding it hard to do. People know him much better after this debate.
Make no mistake - Obama won the economic debate and won it big. McCain might have just edged Obama on the foreign policy side. But if this debate on foreign policy was nearly a tie, Obama will be the beneficiary, Just as Kevin Rudd was in 2007.