NPR logo
After Doubts, Debate To Go Ahead
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95105124/95105091" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
After Doubts, Debate To Go Ahead

Election 2008

After Doubts, Debate To Go Ahead

After Doubts, Debate To Go Ahead
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95105124/95105091" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

After two days of uncertainty, the first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain goes forward as scheduled. The stated topic is foreign policy, but moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS is expected to throw in the hot topic — financial meltdown and the government efforts to respond.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And with those bailout negotiations continuing here in Washington, both John McCain and Barack Obama are in Oxford, Mississippi, where tonight they will debate for the first time. We're joined now by NPR's Don Gonyea and Scott Horsley who are both in Oxford and Scott, let's start with you. What persuaded John McCain finally that he should reverse course, go ahead with this debate when he said he wouldn't?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, Melissa, it was touch and go. Late this morning, John McCain was still in Washington working the telephones and meeting in person with his fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He says now, that he is optimistic that lawmakers have made significant progress towards a bipartisan agreement. And that in particular, House Republicans like Congressman Cantor who had been the biggest holdout now have a seat at the table in the negotiations.

Now, that's a lower standard than what he'd been demanding earlier this week to take part in the negotiations. And to the extent that there has been that progress - it's not really clear what roles Senator McCain's trip to Washington may have played in getting there. But, the story the campaign wants to tell is that his personal intervention is what helped set the stage for this renewed negotiations. Democrats tell a different story. They say that John McCain's presence was little helpful or maybe even counterproductive.

BLOCK: Right. And Don Gonyea, with the Obama campaign, I'm assuming that is exactly the message you're hearing?

DON GONYEA: Exactly. And, you know, it's interesting that the question is did this, you know, help or hurt either candidate. With Senator Obama, perhaps it had the potential to hurt at one point, but only if it had had helped John McCain. And that doesn't seem to have happened at least in the near term as we watched how it plays out and if it helped Obama it was because it did allow him to portray, you know, the sense of calm throughout.

Even on a day that the New York Times headline today called the day of chaos that gripped Washington, and he always maintained that the best thing that the American people could see is these two candidates, side by side on a stage in Oxford, Mississippi discussing this issue, discussing their plans for the future of the country because one of these two guys will be the president elect in less than seven weeks.

BLOCK: What can both of you tell us briefly about how these candidates have been preparing for this debate tonight? Don, let's start with you.

GONYEA: Well, Senator Obama had initially had Tuesday through Thursday down in Florida - in Tampa, Florida, where they would go through mock debates, where they would, you know, come up with possible questions, possible answers, anticipate what John McCain would say, dissect their own answers, plan their own responses, they lost a full day of that. They really lost about a day and a half of that, so just, you know, flatly there was less time to prepare, at least less time than they had budgeted. That said, Senator Obama has had 20 debates this year while going back to late last year starting at the primary season, so he's done this a lot. They feel he has a solid command of the issues, he's watched John McCain enough. They've watched John McCain on the stump. They feel like they're ready even though they lost some time.

BLOCK: And Scott, what about John McCain?

HORSLEY: Well, of course the focus of this debate was to have been National Security which John McCain considers his strong suit. And so, they had never blocked out the big expanse of time to do debate (unintelligible) with the Obama camp had. Aides do say that even during the course of this frantic week, as all this was going on about the rescue plan that John McCain was able to squeeze in some debate prep he did some last night at his home outside of Washington, D.C. He's even doing some debate prep this afternoon and the hours remaining before the debate tonight and we're also told that even as he was working the phones last night and taking time for debate prep, he was able to get to sleep and get some rest at a reasonable hour.

BLOCK: OK. Thanks very much to you both.

GONYEA: All right, a pleasure.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Don Gonyea and Scott Horsley in Oxford, Mississippi, for tonight's presidential debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: All Things Considered continues in a moment.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Obama, McCain Face Off Over Spending And War

First presidential debate on the economy and foreign policy
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95059878/95124644" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
NPR's analysis of the first presidential debate
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95059878/95124641" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Complete Coverage

Patrons watch the first presidential debate at a bar called Top of The Hill in Washington, D.C.

Patrons watch the first presidential debate at a bar called Top of The Hill in Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 2008. Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images
John McCain i

Republican John McCain makes a point during the first presidential debate. David McNew/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption David McNew/Getty Images
John McCain

Republican John McCain makes a point during the first presidential debate.

David McNew/Getty Images

More From McCain

On Iran
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95059878/95124126" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
On Russia
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95059878/95124132" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
On Government Spending
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95059878/95124199" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Barack Obama i

Democrat Barack Obama answers a question during the first presidential debate. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images
Barack Obama

Democrat Barack Obama answers a question during the first presidential debate.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

More From Obama

On Iran
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95059878/95124129" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
On Russia
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95059878/95124149" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
On Government Spending
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95059878/95124200" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
John Kerry and Trent Lott i

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts (left) speaks with former Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi prior to the first presidential debate in Oxford, Miss. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
John Kerry and Trent Lott

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts (left) speaks with former Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi prior to the first presidential debate in Oxford, Miss.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama skirmished Friday night over issues ranging from the nation's fiscal crisis to its foreign threats in their first nationally televised debate.

The two senators pressed their basic themes: Republican McCain stressed his experience, while Obama claimed that his was the broader vision. Obama tried to paint his rival as an extension of George W. Bush, while McCain sought to portray the Democrat as a tax-and-spend liberal.

Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS began the debate with the most immediate question on most voters' minds: where each candidate stood on the proposed $700 billion bailout for Wall Street. Both men agreed that Congress needs to take action, but neither committed to supporting specific parts of the plan.

McCain asserted that Obama had "the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate," while Obama tried to link McCain to what he said were "eight years of failed economic policies promoted by President Bush."

Lehrer followed by asking how each candidate, as president, would cope with the revenue lost to the bailout. Obama said that he would go slower but would not stop what he said were priorities: working toward energy independence, fixing the health care system and remaining competitive in education, science and technology.

McCain said that he would focus on cutting spending, and he accused Obama of being "a recent convert" in his opposition to big spending and budget earmarks. McCain promised that as president he would veto any pork barrel project, regardless of which lawmaker proposed it, declaring, "You will know their names, and I will make them famous."

This debate was supposed to be about foreign policy and national security, but it very nearly didn't happen, after McCain insisted that he wanted to postpone the match until lawmakers reached a deal on a rescue package for the financial markets. After prospects for a quick agreement slipped away, McCain said that he would take the stage with Obama at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

The foreign policy part of the debate began with questions about the candidates' signature disagreement: the war in Iraq. Obama, who opposed the war before he ran for Congress, asserted that McCain was repeatedly wrong about the war, insisting that the U.S. was victorious in the years when American strategy was failing.

McCain pointed to his own support for the "surge," the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq in 2007, saying that Obama had refused to acknowledge the success of the strategy carried out by Gen. David Petraeus. Obama countered, "John, you like to pretend the war began in 2007."

Obama has maintained consistently that the Bush administration's single-minded focus on the war in Iraq was a diversion that allowed al-Qaida and the Taliban to regroup in Pakistan. He tried to tie his rival to that strategy.

For his part, McCain sought to portray Obama as naive and inexperienced. He hit at him for having said that he would negotiate with Iranian leaders without preconditions. He said a presidential-level meeting with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would legitimize someone who has called Israel "a stinking corpse" and has said that the Jewish state should be wiped off the face of the Earth. Obama countered by saying that such talks would be undertaken with "preparations," not preconditions. He noted that a key McCain adviser, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, has advocated talks without preconditions.

The two candidates pursued their themes of experience versus vision in skirmishes over the conflict between Russia and Georgia and the question of North Korea's nuclear program.

Immediately after the fact, many analysts saw the candidates' first contest as a draw. Foreign policy was regarded by many as a strong suit for McCain, but Obama was able to hold his own with his familiar theme that the Bush administration had squandered military and foreign policy resources on the war in Iraq.

The two men are scheduled to face each other twice more. They'll meet next on Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., and again at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Oct. 15. Their vice presidential running mates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, will meet once, in a debate at Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 2.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.