First Presidential Debate
Ford Center for the Performing Arts
University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS

Friday, September 26, 2008
Subject: Foreign policy and national security (plus questions on economic recovery plan at the beginning).

: Jim Lehrer.

: Two-minute answers
for each question, followed by five-minute discussion.

Overview: This debate occurred against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations to address the Wall Street crisis.  Sen. McCain announced on Sept. 24 that he was suspending his campaign to focus on the economic difficulties, causing
uncertainty as to whether he would show up for the debate.  The uncertainty continued until his campaign released a statement on the morning of Sept. 26.  Given the preoccupation with developing a financial recovery plan, moderator Jim Lehrer devoted his first three lead questions to that subject.  Subsequent questions covered Iraq, Afganistan, Iran, Russia and the possibility of another 9/11.  Lehrer sought to encourage direct exchanges between the candidates, and, while the two went at it, not much of dialogue developed. 

Audience: 52.4 million viewers (36.2 million households).
Source: Nielsen, based on
live coverage on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC-America, CNBC, CNN, FOX News Channel, and MSNBC.  Nielsen notes that this was "roughly 16% smaller than the audience for the first debate between President Bush and John Kerry during the 2004 election, which drew 62.5 million viewers on September 30, 2004."


Pre-Debate Stage Setters/Rapid Response/Post-Debate Spin

“This was a clear victory for Barack Obama on John McCain’s home turf. Senator McCain offered nothing but more of the same failed Bush policies, and Barack Obama made a forceful case for change in our economy and our foreign policy. While Senator McCain wants to keep giving huge tax cuts to corporations and said nothing about the challenges Americans are facing in their daily lives, Barack Obama will be a fierce advocate for tax cuts for the middle class, affordable health care, and a new energy economy that creates millions of jobs. While foreign policy was supposed to be John McCain’s top issue, Barack Obama commanded that part of the debate with a clear call to responsibly end a misguided war in Iraq so that we can finish the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. John McCain needed a game-changer tonight, and by any measure he didn’t get it.”

Obama-Biden campaign manager David Plouffe  
"There was one man who was presidential tonight, that man was John McCain. There was another who was political, that was Barack Obama. John McCain won this debate and controlled the dialogue throughout, whether it was the economy, taxes, spending, Iraq or Iran. There was a leadership gap, a judgment gap, and a boldness gap on display tonight, a fact Barack Obama acknowledged when he said John McCain was right at least five times. Tonight's debate showed John McCain in command of the issues and presenting a clear agenda for America's future."

McCain-Palin 2008 communications director Jill Hazelbaker  

On the Front Page
New York Times "RIVALS DISPLAY STARK CONTRAST IN CLASHES ON WAR AND ECONOMY: First Encounter: Obama Assails Bush Policies ad McCain Cites Experience" by Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny.
...and "Beyond Ideology a Collision of Generations" (The TV Watch) by Alessandra Stanley.
Medium close up of McCain and Obama shaking hands before or after the debate (although the caption says "during").
Doug Mills, The New York Times.

Washington Post
"In First Debate, Candidates Quarrel on Iraq, Express Optimism for Bailout" by Michael D. Shear and Shailagh Murray. Wide shot from behind the candidates shows the two standing at their podiums and between them moderator Jim Lehrer seated at his desk.
Pool photo by Chip Somodevilla.

Wall Street Journal
"Obama, McCain Spar on War, Fiscal Crisis in First Debate" by Laura Meckler, Elizabeth Holmes and Amy Chozick. Medium wide shot of McCain and Obama at podiums.

Bob Barr
Ralph Nader

interest groups
The ONE Campaign
Partnership for a Secure America
Save Darfur Coalition
Veterans for America

CBS News
National Public Radio

University of Dayton: Randy Sparks

Sponsors : The Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation   |   AT&T   |   BancorpSouth   |   Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi   |   Chevron Pascagoula Refinery   |   Entergy   |   FedEx   |  Mississippi Power   |   Roy Anderson Holding Corp.   |  Sanderson Farms   |   Southern Company   |  Trustmark Bank   |  Wal-Mart

Copyright © 2008  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action