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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Analysis of the Second Presidential Debate

Aired October 7, 2008 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm with them I thought the format was awful. I thought Tom Brokaw didn't do a very good job of focusing the conversation. I thought he asked a lot of questions that were just his own questions.
They didn't have a chance to engage with each other. I thought it made it boring. I just thought that format should be tossed and never to be used again.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But they tried to do it differently I mean they -- they came up with the rules themselves and negotiated long and hard to set it up the way they did.

TOOBIN: And they did a terrible job.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Let the candidates talk to each other. I felt that the Jim Lehrer debate was much good, no you'll just let them talk.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree with that, I disagree with Paul Begala, he said earlier, he said they'll be commission -- I think the commission actually has done a real public service.

But the candidates clearly negotiated the debate in which their candidate would not make a mistake. I think they played to caution. And what we lacked then was a real engagement and a sense of depth and a real back and forth. I mean it was a mish mash and repeatedly we were left with Obama --

BEGALA: The candidates having been a handler, the candidate's handlers will always be risk averse, let's not anything happen. So the commission ought to, if it exists and I don't know that it needs to, step in and say no, we're going to have an adult conversation, we're going to have lights and buzzers and time cues, we're going to have a smart guy like Brokaw. We're going to have Americans citizens asking tough questions and we're going to let this guys go at it.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR AC360: Did you learn anything by seeing these two men together on the stage and kind of wandering around freely for the first time?

BEGALA: Yes, I think your first comment that physicality of this is really important. Again Obama's message is change and he is change incarnate and there's a real generational divide here.

Obama needs to do better with senior citizens OK, but he is clearly the future standing there. And McCain, he's been terribly wounded in the war he was tortured I mean but he does look he's age; he looked like a 72-year-old guy.

COOPER: Do you that came across Alex?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He came across physically and I think when Senator McCain kept looking back and talking about the answer to Social Security as Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill. I don't think that help, I thought tonight John McCain had to say, call America to a big challenge. This is the most uncertain period in our history that any of us can remember.

And he could have asked America to rise to a big challenge and put the context for us and point to the future and say we're going to go over here. And that's what I think a lot of Republicans wanted to hear.

Instead, you don't run the four corners offense when you're behind, you don't sit on your lead and I thought we did a little bit of that tonight.

COOPER: Leslie Sanchez who's joining us for the first time?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No I completely agree, I think there were a tremendous missed opportunities. But there were so many really odd nuances too. The references to transplants, the condescension.

BEGALA: The hair transplant.

SANCHEZ: The hair transposition, just strange things that you never do --

COOPER: First time I think that's coming up in a presidential debate.

SANCHEZ: In a presidential debate. These little nuances, he had to come on strong on the economy. People wanted to see that on the job. But when he talked about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you know other companies you probably never heard of. I think that was very condescending to the voter there. It's in the news everyday and people have a very strong sense to this sub-prime crisis.

COOPER: Do you think it was -- James, John McCain had wanted more of these town hall formats. Do you think it would have been a mistake had that actually happened for John McCain?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think that the campaigns negotiate these rules. I'm not a big fan of the Presidential Debate Commission at all. They negotiate the rules. It's obvious the candidates didn't want to follow them, they should have said heck with the rules, you guys go ahead on and do whatever you want to do.

COOPER: It's always interesting to hear how this played in the hall versus how it might have played here in the studio or for you at home. Let's check in with Candy Crowley who's actually at the debate hall in Nashville. Candy, your thoughts as you watch this.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think you can't tell frankly here in the hall because the audience was told just to be quiet and let it happen and they can only applaud at the beginning and the end.

But it came out the same in person as it does on TV because I can see both, I can turn around and watch the debate and then see it on our return video here. So look, if people are going to vote for the person who performs the best in these debates whether it's a Town Hall meeting or behind two lecterns, that's going to be Barack Obama.

I think you know you're perfectly right, you put the two of them up there together and Barack Obama says change, due to his youth, due to his outlook on things. I think McCain got a lot stronger when it turn to foreign policy, he was pretty good on that and I think he came out a lot stronger.

But there's just no -- Barack Obama is a better performer. He's better at putting, at synthesizing his ideas. McCain tried some attempts at humor. That if you don't have an audience that's full of your supporters that can react to you, it just doesn't work. And it didn't work in this format.

And I agree, why send your team out to spend months, months putting out these little rules and they all get blown up because what you get, I thought was a disjointed debate and one which covered as far as I could see no new ground. I heard stump speeches from both of them all the way through that.

COOPER: We're moments away from getting the CNN Poll, Campbell Brown right now has crunches and numbers and now we're going to bring that to you soon as we have it.

Paul, you brought up a point that watching Barack Obama after the debate kind of worked the crowd when John McCain and his wife had already left. You called that sort of Bill Clintonesque?

BEGALA: Well, because Barack knows that those citizens are all going to be interviewed and so -- their final impression will be that Obama stayed, he listened when you talked to them. He gravitated toward the guy who asked the last question. Well, I think it was a chief petty officer in the Navy, who was clearly it seem to me the kind of the guy would be for McCain and talked about service.

COOPER: John McCain made physical comment with him and shook his hand and he touched his shoulder.

BEGALA: Which is great, it was one of McCain's best moments and it gave McCain a setup for his conclusion which was the best moment he had in the whole debate.

Barack sought him out. And tried to win him over and it did remind me of my old boss Bill Clinton, and he would have never left that room and Barack did that, he stayed to the end. McCain left early it's a little sign that Barack is really attuned to wanting to win over the room.

BORGER: You know Anderson, I think overall, what Obama did was reinforce that impression that he made in the first presidential debate which is that he can stand toe to toe with John McCain and surpass him. And I think on domestic policy in particular tonight he did. And since he's the front-runner, tie goes to the front-runner.

COOPER: I think Campbell, you've got some of the poll numbers?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, oh hold on I'm getting a little information, no OK, let me take you through this. And we should tell everybody going in, the breakdown, these are people who watched the debate in terms of who we polled. And the breakdown is roughly like the population of the country. 38 percent Democrat; 31 percent Republican; the country is about 27 percent Republican. So pretty close in that regard.

Three questions here. And number one who did the best job in the debate. Obama 54 percent, McCain 30 percent. The debate watchers, opinion of Barack Obama, before the debate, your favorables at 60 percent, after the debate, they went up for Obama to 64 percent. Unfavorable for Obama at 38 percent, after the debate they went down to 34 percent. For John McCain, the opinion of John McCain, his favorables before the debate, 51 percent, unchanged after the debate again at 51 percent. His unfavorables at 46 percent, and again unchanged 46 percent.

And we're going to have more, we're still going through the numbers we're getting in right now. And we'll have a lot more on this coming up in a few minutes.

COOPER: All right, we'll check in more with you. And what are those numbers tell you John King, I mean clearly good news for the Obama campaign in at least that poll.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think based on the trend we have seen in most of the state polls, there's a little tightening in a couple of the national polls coming in for tonight, so we'll watch the stage close over the next 72 hours.

But it's clear that Barack Obama was ahead, the debate would be about by how much was he ahead coming in. So anytime Barack Obama comes up, there's only one of these and John McCain needs to change the fundamental dynamics, which is not about who wins the debate but about who has the best plan, who is more touch with people, who is more trusted by voters when it comes to the economy. And if you scored Obama as the winner of the debate tonight, you clearly don't think John McCain won that test.

TOOBIN: It suggests that John McCain really will have time to get that hair transplant. He is not -- I mean he is just not doing very well on these debates and I think -- I don't mean to belabor this point. But that moment when he called, when he said "that one" and referred to Obama that way, I think that's going to be memorable and I don't think it's going to be a happy memory for him. SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly -- that woman that we heard that "that woman" I mean a lot of people we've been hearing from saying -- are saying that was the kind of language that was very condescending, very patronizing and even at the end, they talk about the fact that he left, McCain, left early. That there wasn't a hand shake between the two wives. That there's a lot of signals body language --

COOPER: I want to actually play that clip and as we go to break, our coverage continues here on 360. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: 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. You know who voted against it? Me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And welcome back to this post debate edition of 360. And I'm here with the best political team on television live to covering on this hour ahead. We're going to have John King at the magic map and show you some of the best moments. Also more poll numbers, Campbell Brown has that.

Right now that James Carville, tomorrow on the campaign trail, will it be any different than what we have seen for the last couple of days? I mean what they have been saying, especially in the McCain campaign, is very different than what we heard tonight in the debate.

CARVILLE: Yes, I was hoping that that would open it up a little bit more.

COOPER: Tom Brokaw would ask about the Ayers comments.

CARVILLE: Right and yes a lot of things, but what is undeniably true is this is not a close election this is a five or six point election. And that is not a close election in American presidential politics.

In this debate tonight, as we're saying earlier as I said earlier, and I think that Obama won the debate. Period, it wasn't a tie. He clearly won the debate. He's ahead and he won the debate.

McCain knows that. McCain left, the reason McCain left the hall early is he walked off that stage --

COOPER: Do you think if he'll win in the presidency by five or six --

CARVILLE: I think he's going to win, I think absent some unforeseen circumstances, you can call the dogs in, and wet the fire and leave the house, the hunt's over.

Well, that's another expression that I am going to let it go.

COOPER: Well, Alex do you buy that, I mean are you that convinced?

CASTELLANOS: Well, if somebody offered me an opportunity to swap ballot numbers with the Democrats right now, I would take it. Sure, Republicans are behind. And it's not just McCain. Last week every Republican in the country took a hit. The Republican branded -- you have Republican senate races, governors races.

COOPER: Can they turn it around in the next 30 plus days?

CASTELLANOS: It would have been a lot easier if two or three months ago Republicans had stood up and Senator McCain and others and said hey, we've got a tremendous economic challenge and tremendous opportunity -- economic opportunity in this world, here's what we're going to do about it.

In absence of that, now the things that the McCain campaign has to do to disqualify Obama look small personal and political, they don't look large and important to the country.

So yes, you can do it, but what does he have to do? He has to first -- he doesn't need a strategy to attack Obama, he needs a comeback strategy, which is a little bigger and more substantive than just small attacks.

COOPER: Well, James, does this mean that we're going to hearing more from the Sarah Palin about Bill Ayers, and about I don't know Reverend Wright, maybe?

CARVILLE: I think look, -- if the campaigns, they're going to throw. I mean that no one goes gently into that long political good night. But he had a chance tonight, and he had events, he had a chance tonight to really talk to the country in a way and to sort of contrast his kind of experience. And I thought he just came across as a kind of a guy who was just kind of not very happy to be there and kind of petty.

CASTELLANOS: And Obama wasn't that good either.

CARVILLE: I don't know but he didn't have to be. I thought he was fine.

CASTELLANOS: Where was the Obama of the primaries? Where was the Obama of the primaries; the inspiring guy who could lift you up, talk about health and take you into the future. In uncertain times where was that guy? They played it safe.

COOPER: Campbell has got some more poll numbers what do we hearing?

BROWN: Well, let me remind everybody first, this is a poll of people who actually watched the debate and Obama did win the debate in this poll, 54 to 30 percent. But let's talk about issues, I mean I go through these in order and the first issue is Iraq; on the question of who would better handle Iraq Obama 51 percent to McCain's 47 percent. So fairly close on that one.

The question of who would better handle terrorism, McCain win this one 51 percent to 46 percent.

Here's where it gets tricky. Who better to handle the economy? We were talking a double digit margin here. Obama 59 percent, McCain 37 percent.

And who would better handle the financial crisis, Obama 57 percent, McCain 36 percent. And that tells you pretty much everything right now. It's about the economy and those are huge numbers.

KING: If those numbers hold, game over, period.

BEGALA: The election is over?

KING: If those numbers hold that Barack Obama has a nearly 20 points did I have the math right? Math is not my strong suit.

BORGER: 59 percent to 39 percent. That's 20 points.

KING: If you go into Election Day, look, this is people are losing their homes, losing their jobs, losing their 401(k)'s, this is all they care about right now. If you think they give a damn about William Ayers or that Keating 5 or any of this stuff, they don't.

And you try to them about it when you travel, they don't. They care about their jobs, their mortgages, their health care, and their way of life. Factories are closing in these towns that their grandfather worked in. And they are closing down without health care.

This stuff is petty and small for them, if Barack Obama is leading by 20 points on the economy, 20 days from now, game over.

BORGER: 50 percent of the voters now say that the economy is the number one issue. When Bill Clinton won in 1992, when your guy won in 1992, 43 percent of the voters said the economy was the top issue. So now it's six --

COOPER: We've got a lot more ahead to talk about the economy and foreign policy as well. Also these focus groups and more poll numbers from Campbell Brown. We'll get John King over the magic map but right now let's get back to Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": If Senator McCain needed a decisive win to try to turn this thing around at least based on these poll numbers that are coming in. On the most important issue affecting voters Anderson, right now the economy, doesn't seem to have done that.

We're going to take another quick break, we're going to continue our coverage. We're getting more poll numbers in; we're going to go back to Columbus, Ohio.

Soledad's got the focus group, we're going to hear what they're saying. But we want to take a quick break. And leave you with what Senator Obama said about the hunt for Bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: If we have Osama bin Laden in our sites and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill Bin Laden, we will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This was a day the U.S. economy clearly showed the strains. Once again the stock market's down some 500 points. The DOW Jones industrial average have now set the stage for the early part of this discussion.

And welcome back to our continuing coverage.

Anderson, John McCain wasted no time in answering one of those early questions. He immediately came up with what seemed to be a dramatic new proposal that the federal government start buying up a lot of these mortgages -- distressed mortgages to keep people in their homes.

Although we're fact checking it right now, there seems to be some legislation -- some legislation already on the books that would allow that to happen.

We're going to get back to you and have some more information on exactly what Senator McCain was proposing and what already is the law of the land.

COOPER: But if you look at the CNN poll which Campbell Brown just told us about the short time ago, on the economy, Obama 59 percent and McCain 36 percent. David Gergen, do you agree with John King and James Carville that if those numbers continue it's basically game over?

GERGEN: I think it's too early to declare victory Anderson, because Barack Obama is black. And until we play out the issue of race in this country, I don't think we'll know and maybe unless -- late in the campaign.

COOPER: Do you think that despite the lead in the polls, people might change their minds once they're actually in the voting booth?

GERGEN: I'm not sure the polls are totally believable, I think there's -- there maybe built in. Over the years there's a study now that's come out of Stanford University and Associate Press along with Yahoo, saying that is -- that his blackness may cost him as much as six points I think he's in a commanding position coming out of this second debate. Having won two, having done as well as he has, I think he's established in the public's mind now that he is certainly as qualified to be president as John McCain.

And that's a -- and he's come a long way in this and I think it's much more sure-footed, he's very presidential tonight. But we don't know what the race factor in America now. I think until this plays; it could close on this before it's over.

TOOBIN: Obviously we don't know what the race factor is but I do think it's important to remember that in the primaries the polls were very accurate. There was not this Bradley affect. There's not the line to pollsters business. So I think that --

COOPER: You're shaking your head.

KING: I give you the state of New Hampshire.

TOOBIN: Well, that was a very fast moving situation where it's just one week between Iowa and New Hampshire.

COOPER: It may actually kind of play into this in terms of how these candidates were perceived tonight.

BROWN: Yes, I think we have the graphics ready for this. And this is a little more generic but who expressed his views more clearly in the debate. 60 percent said Obama, McCain 30 percent. Who spent more time attacking his opponent; McCain 63 percent, to Obama's 17 percent. Who seemed to be the strongest leader in the debate; 54 percent for Obama to 43 percent.

GERGEN: That's interesting.

BROWN: And who was more likable? Obama 65 percent to McCain 28 percent, so Obama pretty much crushing him in the most of these polls.

COOPER: And David Gergen which is the one that the most interest you.

GERGEN: The leaders, because John McCain went into this with a huge lead on the leadership question. And Barack Obama was the orator, the celebrity, but he didn't seem to have that gravitas in the sense of command that you look for in a president. And he's come a long way in establishing his bona fide on this. I think he shoot both of this debates -- I think he's been far better in both of this debates than he was with Hillary.

COOPER: Go -- go ahead Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just on the leadership question, that, I think is what is probably so hurtful to John McCain right now is that they understand how bad the economic numbers are for them. And that's why they have been trying to turn the debate not so much about the economy, but to who is going to be the best person, who do you really trust to take us out of this. COOPER: So David Gergen's point though on race, Suzanne is that something you hear --

BASH: -- but do you really trust this other guy to take you to where he says he's going to go. And if he's losing the voters on the leadership question, that is going to be a lot harder to sell.

COOPER: On the racial issue Suzanne, is that something you hear from Obama's people in the campaign? I mean are they concerned about the discrepancy between where the polls are and where they may really be?

MALVEAUX: Well, I just spoke at an Obama aide before the debate who said you know they would love have to the election tonight if they could, just because of all the support, the numbers.

But at the same time, they're very cautious, they say they're going to put their heads down, they're going to keep working. They're not cocky at this point.

They believe that there's a lot of hard work that's ahead and it -- part of it speaks to what David was talking about and part of it just speaks to the fact that there's been so many unknowns. There's 28 days or 27 days is a lifetime in a campaign.

COOPER: So they're not going to run a commercial with James Carville saying the dogs are wet bring them in or whatever that -- I can't remember exactly or do the laundry or I can't remember what it was.

CARVILLE: Let me be clear, I said you can call the dogs and light the fire and leave the house. I think it sounds over.

Now let me be clear here, if Obama goes in this race with a 5- point lead and losing this election, the consequences are -- bull, man. I mean I don't think that's going to happen, but I think David it's a point to bring up

But you stop and contemplate this country if Obama goes in and he has a consistent five point lead and loses the election, it would be very, very, very dramatic out there.

BORGER: I think it's about age, also, demographics plays into this tremendously. Because if you get a youth vote, race is going to be much less important and this is what the Obama people believe and this is what a lot of pollsters believe.

It really affects older voters much more than younger voters.

COOPER: Paul you were going to --

BEGALA: This is why what Sarah Palin was doing is so dangerous. I love, love, love attack politics, I love it. But she has -- at least in the views of the Associated Press, they said her attack on this whole Bill Ayers thing was racially-tinged. That's not what the Democrats said, this is what the Associated Press said and if harkens back to at the convention.

She had this quote in her convention speech, a kind of anodyne quote about how small towns are good. Well, Bobby Kennedy Jr. looked it up and it's from a guy named Westbrook Pegler, who Kennedy describes as a fascist and avowed racist who wrote this about Bobby's father, Senator Kennedy.

"Some white patriot of the southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies."

Now, why does this governor have such an affinity for such a hate monger to quote him in her speech? Why is she saying things that at least the Associated Press says is very divisive.

COOPER: Let me just give the Republican a chance to respond, Alex do you believe race is suddenly brought up on the campaign trail by Sarah Palin?

CASTELLANOS: I think what Sarah Palin is talking about, I mean this is something that we're talking about in Obama's background who he'd surrounded himself with long before this point. I think this is one of the dangers of Google, you can find something you've said anywhere else on the Internet.

I think that's a bit of a stretch. I think the interesting person tonight, imagine what Hillary Clinton was thinking, she was beating Barack Obama like a drum, even after he got the nomination, if she had been on that stage tonight seeing that the opportunity she's missed.

COOPER: We've got to take a break, again, a lot more coverage ahead, AC360 continues and in a half an hour, we're going to replay the debate for you, you'll be able to watch it all. Right now here's a moment from the debate, John McCain talking about the surge.

We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Senator Obama was wrong about Iraq and the surge. He was wrong about Russia when they committed aggression against Georgia and in his short career, he does not understand our national security challenges. We don't have time for on-the-job training, my friend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to this post-debate edition of AC360. You're looking at a picture of the Spin Room; that is one place that we're not going tonight. I never understand why anyone would actually enter the Spin Room to talk to people because they just purely spin and they even call it the Spin Room. We have decided not to enter the Spin Room tonight.

We're focusing on some of the best political team on television folks that we have right here. So if you want to see the Spin Room, you have to probably go to another network. Sorry about that but frankly we're just not going to do it. It's not worth it frankly.

Let's go to Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, good point, thanks very much.

I want to walk over to John king because he's been looking at all these numbers. John, as I walk over to you, I see these numbers from our poll that have just been released. Who did the best job in the debate; Obama 54 percent, McCain 30 percent. But then if you go in and you dig deeper; who would better handle the economy, which is the most issue right now; Obama 59 percent, 37 percent for McCain. Who was more intelligent in the debate; 57 percent for Obama, 25 percent for McCain. And who expressed his views more clearly in the debate; Obama 60 percent, McCain 30 percent.

These are not the numbers that McCain needed tonight in this, the second of three debates.

KING: Absolutely not, Wolf, because for the numbers to be so lopsided in favor of Barack Obama, that means he's not only getting all the Democrats, he has to be getting, for those numbers, a sizable chunk of the independents and seemingly even some Republicans.

Why does that matter? Because out here, I'll go back to the place I spent some time this week. I was right out here; Ashland County, it's very tiny in the state of Ohio, a very tiny, a very conservative place. Look at this number.

George W. Bush won this county 65 percent four years ago. That was not an aberration. Let's go back in time a little bit. Right here, in 2000, he won it with 64 percent. It is a conservative, white, rural county. They have lost 4,000 manufacturing jobs in recent years.

I cannot tell you how many people I met here who said they voted for Bush who are open to voting for Barack Obama because they're worried about their jobs. Many of them saying in the past, they registered Democrats locally, they vote Republican for President on issues like guns, on issues like abortions. But that the economy trumps those issue this is year.

If that holds in places like Ashland County, it's a very small place, but look at all the red around it. If that holds in a place like that, guess what, the state of Ohio goes Democratic.

And if the state of Ohio goes Democratic, Wolf, let's come here to the electoral map; game over. Here's where we are right now, 264 to 174. You need 270 to win; again, 27 days left with full campaigning is a long time.

John McCain has time to change things, but things are trending against him. And if this state right here, 20 electoral votes, George Bush won it twice, if that goes blue, that alone makes Barack Obama the next president of the United States. And if independents are breaking Obama's way, which they are right now, and he's holding the Democrats, guess what that does, that puts the states, the more west you go, the more independents you find, Barack Obama is in a close race right now in Colorado, leading in some polls. If that one goes blue, out here you have the combination of Latino voters, new voters and independent voters. That one has been very close in the past presidential elections; Republicans just holding it; if that one goes, you're at a point now where if we go back to where we started on the maps. The gold states are the tossup.

John McCain has to run the board, Wolf. And even that would just get him to the presidency. So to turn this race around, he has to turn some of these blue states at least gold. If he's getting numbers like that, Senator Obama is after a debate like this, again that means it's not just the Democrats saying he won the debate. The independents are the biggest battleground in this election right now because both candidates have locked up their bases.

And Obama is beginning to trend away with the independents. McCain has to find an argument to stop it or else more of these states, and the state of Florida is another big one, he has to hold them and first to stop the slide, he has to stop the slide among independents and he has to make progress on the economic argument in a big way.

BLITZER: And in our poll, if you take a look, who is more likable, the likeability factor in this debate; Obama 65 percent, McCain 28 percent. And who seemed more like a typical politician in the debate, McCain got more on that one, 52 percent for McCain, didn't want that, 36 percent for Obama.

Those numbers clearly not very encouraging for senator McCain on this night. Standby, Anderson, if you take a look at all this, and if in fact Senator McCain needed a decisive win in this debate, it certainly doesn't seem like he got it.

COOPER: No doubt about that Wolf.

John King was talking about the state of Ohio, the race there. Let's go to Ohio right now, to Columbus where Soledad O'Brien is with a group of undecided voters. At least they were undecided before this debate began. Soledad, what have we learned?

O'BRIEN: They came in persuadable meaning they really were going to listen close to the debate so they could make up their minds because they truly had not yet quite made a decision. The economy, of course, the issue that was foremost on their minds, so no surprise, the candidates rated very high whenever they talked about the economy. Take a look at these two sound bites.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We have got to reform health care, to help you and your budget. We are going to have to deal with energy because we can't keep on borrowing from the Chinese and sending money to Saudi Arabia. We are mortgaging our children's future; we have got to have a different energy plan. We have got to invest in college affordability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think you have to look at my record and you have to look at his. Then you have to look at our proposals for our economy. Not $860 billion in new spending, but for the kinds of reforms that keep people in their jobs, get middle income Americans working again and getting our economy moving again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So you can certainly see, Anderson, whenever you heard specifics, sort of ticking off the things that they were interested in doing, the dials would go up, where we saw it go down, it's what we've seen before, negativity, sniping, digs, immediately people would dial down.

Our panelists told us frankly they were so interested in getting some substance that they just didn't want to waste time with digs. It really had nothing to do even sort of overall negativity, just don't waste my time and stick to some substance.

Last time we were taking sort of a raise of the hands, very closely. We asked them to pick a winner, no decisive winner from the debate tonight from this group here of 25 people. But let's go to Barbara Hooper.

Barbara, you are 71 years old. Hold the mike up pretty close so we can get to hear you pretty well. I was watching you watch the debate. It was so interesting because you had a rapt attention and you were working your little dial like crazy, what resonated with you?

BARBARA HOOPER, UNDECIDED VOTER: Well it was what didn't, if I could speak about that.

O'BRIEN: Ok.

HOOPER: I mean, we have so many things going on in our country today, everyone has named so many of those tonight.

But I would like for them to have been more specific about the war and a plan on when to bring our troops home. That concerned me a great deal.

O'BRIEN: Again it comes back to lack of specificity. I think we have seen that all night, Anderson.

People are kind of frustrated frankly, they came to this debate with the dial testers monitoring second by second what they were feeling and they really felt that there were a lot of things they didn't hear, tonight, once again from the candidates which is quite frustrating.

A final show of hands if you will, if you were -- you all came in persuadable. But if you had to vote today, how would you go, raise your hand if you would vote for senator McCain. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11, 12, 13, 14. Do I assume the rest of you for Obama? That would be 11. So a slight advantage to senator McCain if they had to vote today, that's our folks who are persuadable.

You know you only have 27 days left until you actually have to make a decision. And many of you are still undecided. Anybody make up their mind tonight? Raise your hand if you are no longer an undecided. We have got a few, one, two, three, four five, six, seven people. So of our panelists, 25, seven now say this debate was enough to convince them one way or the other -- Anderson.

COOPER: Soledad, it's interesting because if you judge them by their dial testing, their dial testing seemed to go up much more for Barack Obama than it did for McCain and yet clearly they prefer John McCain in that crowd. Interesting to see the decisions that they have reached.

Soledad, thanks very much, always interesting to see. We'll have a lot more of that ahead in the hours ahead. We've got a lot of coverage all night long. Our coverage continues here on AC 360.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There will be one more presidential debate next Wednesday at Hofstra University here in New York State. That will be the third and final presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama; the third and final chance for undecided voters to try to make up their minds based on what these two candidates are saying.

Anderson Cooper will be here next Wednesday for that debate. As well Campbell, all of us will be here, we'll be watching very closely.

COOPER: We are and James Carville is going to bring some dogs and have a fire and he's going to throw it out and I'm not sure what else is going to happen. Campbell actually has some more poll results.

BROWN: Well, I want to take one more look at who won the debate overall which was 54 percent to 30 percent Obama, we told you. But we want to break that down a little bit further because I think this is fascinating.

And we're going to leave this graphic on the screen for a minute because there are a lot of numbers here to digest.

First look at Democrats, 85 percent, no surprise, thought Obama won, to 5 percent McCain. Republicans on the bottom line 64 percent of Republicans thought McCain won, 16 percent Obama. But independent; 54 percent for Obama, 28 percent for McCain. It all comes down to independents; independents are going to decide this election.

John King, how important is that poll? KING: Well, if the independents continue to break the way they are breaking today and the way they were breaking coming into this debate, the math simply doesn't add up. I would do it this way to try to simplify it.

Imagine the American electorate as 20 people. Eight of them are Democrats, six of them are Republicans and six of them are independents. If the independents break evenly, Barack Obama wins 11- 9. Just look at it that way. That's essentially your math.

Right now, independents if you go nationally, independents are a little bit more for Obama coming into today. Again, we'll watch how this plays out. And if you go state by state, in most states they're breaking about even.

In a state like Indiana, John McCain is ahead narrowly and he's slightly ahead among independents. In a statement like North Carolina where John McCain has fallen behind in our recent polling, he's slightly ahead among independents but just barely. In New Hampshire which is broken sharply, where you have a considerable independent population, Obama is winning by a sizable margin among independents and guess what, that's his exact margin in the statewide poll.

So there are more Democrats than Republicans in the country right now. So to win, John McCain has to over-perform among independents, he cannot split them.

BORGER: He was doing that. He was doing that a month ago.

KING: He was doing that a month ago.

BORGER: He was doing that a month ago. And we were shocked about that and now you look at the polls and it's slipped.

BEGALA: That's why Barack's strategy tonight was almost on every issue, to harken back to Bush and link McCain to Bush. Whether Bush's job approval rating is 29 overall, if you separate out Republicans, you know what it is, 10; Independents and of course Democrats. But Independents especially don't like George W. Bush and McCain is carrying that big lead weight of George W. Bush.

Fairly or not, he's carrying it.

CASTELLANOS: Well, that changed last week with an economic meltdown. Before that that wasn't the case. So that meltdown brought --

COOPER: So can it change back? Is there any way that you can see, Alex Castellanos, a change for that?

CASTELLANOS: Sure, it could change but it's exceedingly hard and McCain not do it with an attack strategy. He needs a come-back strategy.

Step one, tell voters where we are. Guess what, the world is changing, the economy is burned down. This is a tough time for Republicans, it's tough, but we can come back. Two, America always rises to these challenge, I have personally --

COOPER: But what we're hearing from them on the trail is attacks on the personal issues, on the so-called character issues, these allegations of relationships.

SANCHEZ: Yes, totally missed the point. That's what we were talking about earlier.

That if you think of it as a three-legged school; you've got the economy, national security and the cultural issues. When the issues were cultural, Sarah Palin and the middle class and kind of understanding, I feel your pain. When it was national security, John McCain was 5 to 7 points ahead. But for a small amount of time, when it moved to economic, it was definitely a weakness.

If it stay, like John King is talking about, on economy, it's very difficult for Republicans to rebound from that. They needed a reason to feel comfortable with McCain. A fire, a passion, and they didn't hear that.

CARVILLE: In the bonfire, each dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor. There's just a very little left.

COOPER: They're coming so fast, it's furious.

CARVILLE: There is little left here, it probably will not change. The time to attack Obama culturally was much earlier. And any cultural attacks now, people are like, oh, come on, this sounds kind of petty and small. I suspect that they made that decision very quickly before the debate to sort of lay off of these sort of cultural attacks because they just given a deal with that.

COOPER: We have to take one quick break. We'll take it with a moment from John McCain, more commentary, more analysis on the other side.

We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We rushed into Iraq, and Senator McCain and President Bush suggested that it wasn't that important to catch bin Laden right now and that we could muddle through and that has cost us dearly. We have got to be much more strategic if we're going to be able to deal with all the challenges that we face out there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to our post-debate version of 360.

We want to check in with Candy Crowley who is at the debate hall in Nashville, Tennessee. Candy, what happens tomorrow? I mean, if this wasn't a game changer, do we hear the same things on the campaign trail that we have been hearing for the last couple of days? Does anything change?

CROWLEY: Listen, if you're Barack Obama, what you want is to just gel those numbers and keep going.

You will hear from Barack Obama what you have heard from him really since he got the nomination. John McCain is George Bush. George Bush and John McCain are the same person. That's all they see that they have to do at this point.

With John McCain, yes, I mean, they have said we have heard Dana report repeatedly that what they intend to do is to raise those doubts. They know that one of the more, used to be anyway, one of the more serious problems that Obama seemed to have beginning at the first of the year was that people weren't sure he was ready to lead. They weren't quite sure who is this guy? What do we really know about him?

That's what the McCain campaign is trying to do here.

Now, having said that, I so think that there is some need there and we saw that in the group that Soledad was talking about. Define this a little more.

I think McCain's home mortgage plan probably sent shivers up and down the spines of conservatives. That is a hugely expensive plan to buy up the bad mortgages from homeowners and sell them back at the real price of the home at this point or the assessment of their home at this point at a lower interest rate. That is an enormous government program. It would be interesting to see how far that goes in the days ahead.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos' head, I think, almost exploded when that proposal was named. But Alex, one issue that you brought up, which I had noticed as well, which I think is a fascinating one, Barack Obama's reaction or lack of when John McCain would be referencing something about him in those cut away shots.

CASTELLANOS: I think the Obama campaign was very a-practiced this night. They knew that moment was coming. When McCain was going to attack and that would be a moment for Barack Obama to display stature, presidential stature. And so he sat on that stool, he smiled. He can handle tough moments. I thought he looked very presidential there.

COOPER: There was almost, Paul, a kind of a look on his face of almost like, oh, I'm sorry that John McCain is going there look.

BEGALA: Yes. I do think he has a highly developed sense of irony and of the sometimes sort of ridiculousness of the profession that he's chosen. And I think that showed. I think it's useful.

They always said JFK was that way. You work so hard on this. It was the reaction shots that cost Al Gore the debate with George W. Bush. Most people thought he won on points but it was the eye rolling, it was the sighing. And he's definitely been told the camera is always on.

COOPER: There's something with just the way he was looking at the -- BEGALA: First off -- look at this; direct contact with McCain, eye contact that is; very important. A lot of people criticize McCain for not looking at Barack in the first debate. And he doesn't seem at all upset, intimidated, he's kind of leaning into him. That's great body language there.

COOPER: Let's talk in these final minutes about where the race goes from here. I mean, John King, you're out there a lot. Obviously, the economy is going to continue to be the number one issue.

Do the attacks continue? Does Sarah Palin still play that role of bringing up Bill Ayers or bringing up, flirting with bringing up Reverend Wright?

KING: I think yes and I would say, to win it has to be yes but, in the sense that the McCain people calculus all along has been to follow what Hillary Clinton doing and if she had two more weeks might have succeed with; convince the American people Barack Obama that is not like you. He's not like you, you can't trust, he doesn't have the experience to be president and there's a few things that just aren't like you.

But the times are big and people sense this big challenge and big anxiety so I think you can raise doubts about Barack Obama and they need to but that's not -- alone it's not going to do it based on everything I hear as I travel.

COOPER: Quick final thoughts, yes.

TOOBIN: It's worth noting the two words you didn't hear in the debate were Palin and Biden. They were not mentioned at all. I think she's becoming an irrelevant factor in the campaign; neither a plus or minus. Biden has never been a factor. This is a race about Obama and McCain.

COOPER: David.

GERGEN: It was a real missed opportunity for John McCain tonight. If he had a real economic plan and been able to explain it he might have helped himself a lot; I think, he has got one more shot at that.

If I were in his position right now, I would meet with a group of economists over the weekend; spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to stop this economy from cratering. Give a big speech Monday or Tuesday before the debate and then come in to the debate with something to say that's fresh, that's new, that's different and compelling.

BORGER: You know suddenly John McCain's experience seems beside the point. And now what people are looking at is an even match-up here between two fellows who seem to be ready to be president. And I think they're going to try to portray Barack Obama at too risky, but after this debate, people are saying he's not. BASH: And it's hard to imagine that they're going to change very much right now. I think they're going to try to amplify what they've already started to do which is, he's too risky, he's too dangerous.

But again, the problem is, looking at these poll numbers and watching what happened tonight, it doesn't sound like it's going to stick.

BROWN: And Anderson, the bailout package hasn't stopped the bleeding and we've all seen that. And that means that you're going to see us on our shows talking about that above everything else.

GERGEN: That's an opening for having a post debate --

COOPER: Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Looking forward to voter registration is key to the Obama campaign; Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, Florida. That is really where they're going to make the inroads. They're very excited about that and the African-American vote, as well. They're going to be focused on that.

And also they say, look, this campaign is very much you're your candidate; not too high, not too low but just steady. Focus on the economy and remain steady, remain focused and they feel that they're going to do well.

COOPER: Much more on 360.

We're starting a series looking at who is to blame for the crisis we are in, the ten most wanted, the culprits of this crisis. That's tomorrow on 360 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Our coverage continues, though, Wolf?

BLITZER: Sounds fascinating.

We are going to be spending a lot of time taking a look ahead over the next few days.

There will be one more debate, Anderson. Next Wednesday, October 15 at Hofstra University here in New York. That will be the third and final presidential debate; the last opportunity for these two candidates to be together and the last opportunity for those still undecided voters out there to make up our mind.

"AMERICAN MORNING" will have continuing coverage tomorrow morning; John Roberts and Kiran Chetry standing by for that. We'll be back in "THE SITUATION ROOM" tomorrow afternoon, extended coverage of that as well.

We're also watching very closely the economy; that is issue number one. We are not leaving that story by any means. As you know, a huge, huge drop today in the stock markets. We'll see what happens tomorrow. For all of us here at the CNN Election Center, we want to thank you very much for watching. For Campbell Brown and Anderson Cooper, I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. We'll see you next time.

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