Title this one John McCain Unleashed. He won, Barack Obama lost. In fact, Bob Schieffer finished ahead of the Democratic candidate. I know the insta-polls don’t show that (CNN’s says Obama 58/McCain 32, while the CBS poll says Obama 53/McCain 22, but McCain won by being a different John McCain.

Unfortunately for McCain, the only people he won with are the red-meat Republicans he already had in his column. However, nothing that happened tonight will stop the now-inevitable Obama victory. It might swing a couple of percentage points in the next day or two, but not enough to save McCain.

It’s said that you’re doing well if you can “think on your feet.” McCain had trouble thinking on his feet at the last two debates, but did much better tonight. For him, it’s best to “think on your butt.” It’s a good thing McCain didn’t get all those town hall debates he wanted, since he became a star by sitting down on “Face The Nation” and “Meet The Press,” a format which, like tonight’s debate, works much better for him.

What’s the over/under on how soon America will be sick of Joe Wurzelbacher, a/k/a Joe The Plumber? I’m giving the news cycle 48 hours to get him booked on all the shows and a magazine cover or two. By the way, Joe, your life better be pretty clean, because you’re about to be picked apart by the media and the blogosphere.

Isn’t it amazing how McCain made himself the victim in the name-calling personal attack war? His running mate goes around the country accusing Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and McCain himself has to calm down supporters spewing extremist remarks about his opponent, and McCain is the victim? Obama’s negative ads are about issues, McCain’s are much more personally pejorative. Now that’s spin.

McCain says Obama has spent more on negative ads than any presidential candidate in history, but that’s because of the huge amounts of money Obama is spending on all advertising (even in video games!). If only half of his ads were negative, that would still dwarf the overall sum McCain has spent — it’s something like an 8-1 ratio in Obama’s favor.

Not one uncommitted voter was swayed by the discussion of US trade policy with Colombia. Who cares about that? Only one demographic group: cokeheads.

Same thing applies for the Ayers issue. With 20 days to go and the economy owning the headlines every day, there’s no time for Ayers to get traction with the public, particularly the 7% of voters who still haven’t made up their minds.

Missed opportunities for Obama:

  • When McCain quoted Obama telling Joe The Plumber that we have to “spread the wealth,” Obama should have pointed out that’s how our tax system works now. It’s a progressive system, under which the more you make, the more you pay.
  • He should have asked how McCain can freeze spending and still buy up $300 billion in mortgages. If that’s gonna come out of the $750 billion Paulson Plan, what takes up the slack?
  • In the abortion discussion, he should have pointed out the the Palins made a choice to have their youngest child. Palin told an interviewer the other day that she and Todd prayed and talked about it a lot before making their decision. In other words, they considered the options and chose to have the child. That’s a choice. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, as both Palin and McCain want, they wouldn’t have had any options.
  • On government being involved in health care and insurance, he should have pushed both the Medicare connection and the fact that McCain (and Obama), as a federal employees, is covered by a government health care plan.

I’m not sure whose grin is more annoying — Obama’s when he heard McCain say something he considers ridiculous, or McCain’s when he heard, well, anything.

To play up his self-proclaimed maverick status, McCain keeps talking up how he has voted against his party at times, and challenging Obama to give evidence of when he’s done that. But Obama isn’t running as the anti-Democrat Democrat, and all he has to say is, this isn’t about who I voted with, it’s about what I voted for. Incidentally, Obama was gracious several times in mentioning things he agreed with McCain on, but I didn’t hear McCain return the favor.

Bob Schieffer was the only debate moderator who avoided asking a stupid question. He did a very good job keeping these guys to the topic as often as possible, even interrupting to get direct (or as direct as they can be) answers to his questions.

WLS political analyst Dan Profft adds that Schieffer did McCain one big favor — he made him seem not so old by comparison.