10:41 p.m.

Who won?

I'll call it a tie. No big mistakes by either. Obama was clearly more comfortable on economic issues, McCain generally more assertive on foreign policy.

I bet the polls don't change much.

10:39 p.m.

Lehrer ends on a high note (only in a journalistic sense): What's the chance of another 9/11? McCain uses it to say he wanted the 9/11 commission over Bush's objections. Says the chance of another major attack is less than it was then. Comes out against torture.

Obama gets the last comment. "We are safer in some ways." Haven't done enough with ports and transit. Raises issue of terrorist and nukes. Says not spending enough to prevent that. But says to really keep the country safe, need to mend fences with allies.

Oopps...not the last comment. They are running over on time.

McCain goes back to Iraq. It is an impassioned plea. "That is the central issue of our time." I.e. keeping terrorists out of Iraq.

Obama says yeah, but in the mean time Bin Laden is still out there, and we aren't paying attention to China etc. "We have viewed everything through this single lens" and weakened our status in the world and hurt the economy at home.

Pretty stark contrast.

McCain comes back hard.

"I honestly don't believe Sen. Obama has the knowledge or experience," to be president.

A pretty tough attack from McCain. And says Obama is inflexible on Iraq, like Bush, but on the other side. That will be a stretch.

Obama comes back with...how his father wanted to come to America because it was the best place in the world, and Obama wants to make it so to a new generation. A weak response.

10:25 p.m.

"I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G and a B," says McCain. The gist of all this is that under McCain America will have a muscular and aggressive, though necessarily in military terms, foreign policy. Have to wonder how that will play in a country already fighting two wars. The great American middle has not been fond of going to look for more places overseas to spend money.

McCain gives a long discourse on Russia and eastern Europe.

Obama says he agrees with McCain on those issues. Is it just the way he says it, versus McCain's more aggressive personality.

But then Obama says better diplomacy could have avoided, maybe, the conflict between Georgia and Russia, an option McCain seemed to have left off the table.

10:19 p.m.

McCain raises Iran and Israel for the third time. A cynic would say he is worried about the Jewish vote in Florida.

McCain is hammering away on Obama's "precondition" statement, ie talks without preconditions. Obama attempts to explain it away.

A biting riposte from McCain to talking to the Iranian president, Achmeidinajad (spelled wrong!) without preconditions.

Obama has no quick come back, and is saved when the subject switches to what to do about the Russians.

10:12 p.m.

The Iran moment, which leads to Israel.

"We cannot allow a second holocaust," McCain says.

Can't trust the Russians, so we need McCain's league of Democracy to impose sanctions on Iran that the Russians would veto in the UN.

Obama is trying to stake out a macro view of dealing with Iran. He says that means cooperation from the Russians, and "tough direct diplomacy with Iran. This notion that not talking to be people we are punishing them has not worked."

Talk? McCain says the Iranian president is in NYC talking about exterminating Israel. "We're giving them more credence...because you will sit down" with them. Did McCain get Reagan's history of talking to the Soviet Union wrong?

Obama he'll meet with anyone to keep America safe. Here's a zing. Says McCain adviser Kissinger wants to meet with Iranians without preconditions.

10:02 p.m.

They both endorse more troops in Afghanistan.

McCain seems to say its OK to bomb Pakistan secretly, just don't tell anyone.

McCain calls for a second surge in Afghanistan. "It's going to be tough," he warns.

Obama refers to McCain's moment some years back when he sang "Bomb, Bomb Iran" to the tune of a Beach Boy's song. Sen. McCain is pissed.

McCain responds to his bombing Iran comment. He is pointing out he is not a war monger.

And he notes, correctly, he was against sending Marines to Lebanon in 1983, when nearly 300 Marines were killed. Notes he supported the Bosnia air strikes under Clinton. "That was the right thing to do." He effectively recounts his long foreign policy history in the Senate.

"I have a record...(involving) the highest responsibility and toughest decisions" a president can make, sending troops to war. McCain wins this round on delivery and style; no way Obama can compete. 

9:49 p.m.

Obama gives his lengthy, and eloquent critique of Iraq in response to McCain's noting, correctly, that he was right on surge.

Obama endorses military force "to keep the American people safe," which would not have included Iraq.

McCain comes back strong. The next president has to address not whether we go, but whether and how we leave. "He still says he would oppose the surge if he had to decide that again today."
Obama didn't go to Iraq for 900 days. "To this day he has never had a hearing" on NATO.

Obama strikes back. "that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years." Not a bad come back. Obama lists all the wrong statements McCain made about Iraq, like there is no history of violence between Sunni and Shias.

McCain strikes back. "Let us win....they are winning. Sen. Obama refuses to acknowledge we are winning in Iraq."

It is compelling television. On this subject McCain is alive, animated, confident. It is strikingly different from his comments on the economy, often hesitant and uncertain.

9:38 p.m.

Lehrer is getting angry. How will the financial crisis effect your programs?

McCain. Spending freeze, except defense and veterans.

"You're using a hatchet rather than a scalpel." Obama says.

9:34 p.m.

Obama mentions IRAQ and their billions in oil income sitting unspent.

Lehrer is one stubborn guy.He tries again to get them to talk about what impact the financial troubles will have on their plans.

Both candidates are talking to Lehrer rather than the audience, or each other.

Another McCain line. "I want to make sure we not handing the health care system over to the federal government." Sort of comes out of the blue. Very obvious when he is using a practiced line, and when he is speaking "off-text."

9:31 p.m.

McCain raps Obama on voting for a gift-laden energy bill a couple of years back, which is correct.

"Its just not true" Obama says about another McCain attack. McCain grins. Thinks he just slipped one in.

McCain is getting his groove back. Whacks Obama for being a liberal.
"Its hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left." That line was practiced.

9:21 p.m.

Lehrer is having fun trying to get them to argue with each other. A debate for the special effects generation. A new standard for moderators?

Lehrer goes for specifics. McCain blames GOP for spending too much. Complains about spending $3 million on a Montana study of bear DNA. Cracks a DNA joke that goes flat, attacks Obama on earmarks.

Obama remains more assured and displays a better grasp of specifics. Hate to be petty, but McCain's striped tie is distracting.

He scores a point on Obama and earmarks. They are arguing about who wants to spend more money. Lehrer gets his fight! Obama interrupts McCain to deny McCain's description of his budget and tax proposals. McCain lets him do it.

9:13 p.m.

McCain has been uncertain - Obama not.

9:11 p.m.

Sartorial. Lehrer is in a boring striped tie, light blue shirt, not button-down. A hint?

The candidates walk out from different sides of stage. Blue suits. Obama has redder tie. McCain looks like he doesn't want to look at him. Obama is wearing a flag pin. McCain is not!

Obama gets the first question. Doing well, but has an undercurrent of nervousness at start. Then warms up when he whacks McCain for supporting deregulation etc.

McCain is conversational. Not bad approach. Is more bi-partisan. but appears uncertain and drifts around his subject. Seems to oppose the bail-out. And yes, at 9:08 p.m. he refers to his trip back to D.C.!

Interesting. Lehrer tells them to mix it up! "We have 5 minutes here." Let's negotiate a deal!

Obama gives a policy answer. McCain on defensive, says "a lot of us saw this train wreck coming."

8:49 p.m.

The Spin is ensconced in his padded, tilting chair at home, hoping to experience the debate in much the same way as your average middle-aged American (sans the beer).

What to watch for? While the debate is officially about foreign policy, and will no doubt touch on Iraq, a safe bet is that McCain will, sooner than later, try to explain away that suspending-his-campaign-rushing-to-D.C stunt. He's been roundly criticized from left and much of the right, and even GOP senators weren't leaping to his defense today.

Obama? It's simple. He can't make a mistake. With only a modest, though growing, lead in the polls, he has to solidify that new support and attract Democrats who can't fathom voting for a candidate with 11 houses and 13 cars, but shrink from 1) an East Coast Harvard grad, college professor liberal-type, and 2) a president with the name Obama, and a black guy at that. Sorry to bring it up, but while there are lots of legitimate reasons not to vote for Obama, he'd  likely be up 10 points if he was other-pigmented.

It's not racism. Rather comfort.

Now we wait for the debate.