Economy Stealing Election Spotlight

Barack Obama and John McCain met face-to-face Friday in a debate in Oxford, Miss. The Wall Street financial crisis dominated the first part of the discussion, while foreign policy was the focus in the second half. The financial crisis has changed the dynamic of the presidential election.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's get some analysis now as we do every Monday morning from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is this election different because of the financial crisis?

ROBERTS: I think so. In some polls Barack Obama has pulled up to 50 percent or even over it instead of the few points apart at the candidates have been for several weeks now. And I think for some people this financial crisis is basically the last straw, that we know people want change, we've been seeing that in all the polls. And the remarkable thing has been that the race has been so even up until now. In a year, that should be a year for the anti-incumbent party. The crisis seems to be having voters say whatever, whatever their concerns are about an untested democratic candidate, that Obama just might be better than staying the course. And he and his campaign have done a good job campaigning McCain as staying the Bush course. And I think the debate might have solidified that.

INSKEEP: How did it solidify that?

ROBERTS: Well, I think nothing happened in that debate to frighten people about Barack Obama. You know, it's hard to believe for those of us who have been living and breathing this election for low these many months that not everybody watched those 10,000 democratic debates during the primaries and got to know Obama through those debates, or they had already committed to a candidate and didn't really give him a fair shot. I think the people looking at this debate even though there was some who thought McCain won on points that they sized up Obama maybe for the first time against McCain. And they wanted to vote for him, anyway and saw him in this debate and didn't see any reason not to vote for him. I think it was kind of similar to the Reagan-Carter debate back in 1980 when people wanted to say goodbye to Jimmy Carter but were concerned about Ronald Reagan, saw him in that debate and said, "he's OK."

INSKEEP: Mm. So people got a closer look at Obama, also got a closer look at John McCain and now they get a closer look at the presidential candidates on Thursday.

ROBERTS: The vice presidential candidates...

INSKEEP: The vice presidential. Thank you.

ROBERTS: And that is likely to be quite a audience. Sarah Palin's interview with CBS's Katie Couric was skewered on "Saturday Night Live" this past Saturday with Tina Fey again uncannily seeming like Sarah Palin. But more serious, the interview's been considered such a disaster by some of Palin's former supporters among conservative columnists, that some of them are now calling on her to drop out of the race. Others like Bill Crystal say that the McCain campaign should stop prepping her and stop frightening her and let Palin be Palin. We will see in this debate which side is winning there. John McCain said yesterday that he is very happy about his choice of Sarah Palin. Barack Obama, it's really interesting, Steve, how careful he is on this subject. He simply won't answer questions about her, says it's up to the voters to decide how they feel about her and he is focused on John McCain.

INSKEEP: Well now Cokie, you said that you thought Obama got through that first debate maybe not winning on points but at least looking solid in the view of many voters. Could that possibly change in two more debates?

ROBERTS: Sure. Debates can change voters' minds but I think much more likely to affect this race if there's any other jolt to it would be events, outside events that the candidates have no control over. There's only a little over a month to go now, Steve so it might just be set but there's always something unexpected.

INSKEEP: Analysis as we get every Monday morning from NPR's Cokie Roberts. She's watching the presidential campaign, the vice presidential candidates' debate on Thursday. You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.

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