I like these town hall debates. The format is just far more interesting than standing at lecturns. So naturally, I think this was a much better debate than last month's. Both candidates held their own. No knockout punchs, no campaign killing gaffes.
I think Obama was much better in this format than at the last debate. He strode around the hall confidently and was at ease talking to the questioners. His answers were generally more coherent than McCain's and he tied them back to the everyman more frequently and fluidly than McCain.
Also, Obama had a physical advantage, however unfair that may be. He has a much smoother and more confident gait. He's taller. McCain moved in strange staccato motions. He wheezed at times. Sounded old.
Funny, it seems as though they traded far more shots than at the last debate. I had one eye on CNN's live debate dial tracker and early on the dials went way down whenever either of them invoked the other's name to attack them. Yet it also seems like it was more substantive debate. They more or less answered the questions and clashed over the issues and their records.
McCain had several awkward moments, though they were almost strangely endearing. He made some of his usual lame jokes, though not nearly as many (or as bad) as last month. At one point, apropos of nothing, he told Brokaw that he wasn't on his list for Treasury Secretary. At another, he claims he knows how to "get bin Laden"; doesn't clue us in. Worst awkward moment: he points to Obama and calls him "that one". That line was just odd and slightly creepy, especially given the violent tone of McCain and Palin rallies lately.
Obama had a few awkward moments himself, but also had some strong moments. He nailed McCain on the "bomb, Iran" thing. Had a great line with "Yeah, I don't understand why we attacked a country that had nothing to do with 9/11." Wants to crush al Qaeda and go after bin Laden.
On health care: McCain says health care is a responsibility; Obama says it's a right.
About those dial tracks: Independents tracked with Democrats more often, and liked Obama more than McCain. This is a good thing. That said, all I learned was that partisans are predictable and independents are fickle. Oh, and the sun rises in the east.
On style and substance, I give Obama the win on this one. I bet the polls agree.