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Roundtable's Post-Debate Analysis

Roundtable's Post-Debate Analysis

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume - October 8, 2008

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By the way, my friends, I know you grow weary of this back and forth.

There was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, imagine, "that one." That got a lot of attention as the moment of the night. The McCain campaign thought it was a great moment for them, and the Obama campaign thought it was a good moment for him.

So, some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of "The Weekly Standard," Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief for "Fortune" magazine, and Jeff Birnbaum, managing editor digital of "The Washington Times," FOX News contributors all three.

All right, well, your thoughts, Jeff, on the debate and where it took McCain and where he needs to go.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, MANAGING EDITOR DIGITAL, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES':

Well, I thought the debate was not very exciting, let's just say. It really was a snooze for part of it, and it could not be that way for McCain to do what he needed to do. He needed to make this a homerun, and I think, at best, he had a double.

HUME: What did Obama have?

BIRNBAUM: A double as well, but he was on his way to third, I think, in a lot of people's estimation.

HUME: He had a head start, huh?

BIRNBAUM: He rounded second.

And what McCain needed to do was to prove that this was his favorite format and really go after Obama.

And even though they had signaled, the McCain campaign had, that that's what they were going to do, they were going question Obama's judgment and his character, McCain pulled his punches and instead unveiled a new proposal on mortgages, which turned out not to be all that new and was very difficult to understand, and really didn't advance the ball at all.

If McCain had actually confronted Obama, perhaps, it might have been more exciting, and it might have been a bigger ballgame for -- a better ballgame for John McCain.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: John McCain needs to get a message, and he needs to get a message fast.

This is a candidate who's always run on his personal history and relied on his personal history. Now he is up against a candidate who has similarly interesting personal history, compelling personal history, but also happens to have a message-

HUME: Which is "change"?

EASTON: Which is change. And by the way, you don't represent change, you represent the last eight years. Just like George W. Bush and just like as I used to say about George W. Bush, the energizer bunny, he repeats that message over and over again. And he is incredibly disciplined about that.

What do we have from John McCain? Well, first he was going to govern like a responsible commander in chief. No, wait, wait, I'm a maverick, a reformer. Here's Sarah Palin.

I'm going to suspend my campaign and come to Washington and help with this Treasury bill and the treasury rescue plan.

No, no, I don't like that treasury rescue plan so much after all, we found out last night. I have my own idea.

He is just all over the map. He cannot stay focused. And the only thing he can stay focused on right now are personal attacks.

HUME: If he doesn't have a message, don't you think he ought to be trying one out until something works?

EASTON: He needs to be sticking with it, sticking with a compelling message that works.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": That debate last night, that was the worst in human history. There is no question about that. It was dreadful.

HUME: Wait a minute. Was that worse than the Des Moines Register debate earlier this year?

BARNES: But Tom Brokaw approached that Nurse Ratchet as a limit, and he go very close to her as some overbearing person who intruded in the debate entirely unnecessarily and made the debate worse.

But there wasn't -- that's not the reason why John McCain didn't make much headway.

Look, the first thing John McCain needs for the financial system to stabilize and for the stock market to stop going down and start going up.

I mean, this is a financial crisis that is not only hurting McCain, it's destroying the whole Republican Party. Senate candidates, House candidates, gubernatorial candidates, they're all sinking as a result all over the country.

OK, McCain can't affect that. But Nina is right. He needs one clear message. And he doesn't have one.

HUME: Well, can you really think a clear message, whatever it would be, would overcome the circumstances?

BARNES: Yes, I think it would--and, again, if he had the discipline of Barack Obama.

There was another thing that Barack Obama said over and over again-"I'm looking out for the middle class. When I'm president in Washington, I'm looking out for the middle class. And this guy over here, this one, McCain is just looking out for the rich people."

Brit, you know with that byte you had, if that's the most important sound byte from the debate, nothing happened.

BIRNBAUM: I think McCain has the makings of a message, and it's not on the spending side, where he loves to be. It should be on taxes.

I think there's a real difference between these two, that if you go with Obama, he will raise your taxes. It's not credible what he says--

HUME: Jim Angle had a good report tonight on how Obama is right about the number of small businesses that would get a tax break and the number who would have their taxes increased. But the number that would have their taxes increased are the ones that do the most jobs creation.

EASTON: And Angle made that point, and we haven't heard that point from McCain.

BARNES: McCain said that over 50 percent of the revenues would put small businesses would be affected by this.

HUME: What does that tell you?

BARNES: It tells us that it would affect the small businesses that had bigger profits.

BIRNBAUM: But I think he could go to individuals. Tax cuts for individuals. That's a Republican plan. He could come up with one. It would stimulate the economy. He could make Main Street instead of Wall Street by staying away from capital gains.

I think he had it there but didn't quite grab it, and it may be too late for him to do so.

EASTON: And I would just also add he has to be careful of these attacks with William Ayers on Barack Obama because he is starting to look so angry he vibrates. He has to be careful.

BARNES: Of course he has to attack.

BIRNBAUM: I disagree with that. I think he has to attack, or he has no chance of bringing down Obama numbers.

BARNES: The one thing you don't want to be is a gentlemanly loser.

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