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He’s done it. While, there was no clear knock-out, a national poll of people who watched the first presidential debate suggests that Sen. Barack Obama came out on top.


Fifty-one percent of those polled by the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. Obama concluded that Obama did the better job in Friday (Sept 26) night's debate, while 38 percent said John McCain did better.


Men were nearly evenly split between the two candidates, with 46 percent giving the win to McCain and 43 percent to Obama. But women voters tended to give Obama higher marks, with 59 percent calling him the night's winner, while just 31 percent said McCain won.


"It can be reasonably concluded, especially after accounting for the slight Democratic bias in the survey, that we witnessed a tie in Mississippi tonight," CNN Senior Political Researcher Alan Silverleib said. "But given the direction of the campaign over the last couple of weeks, a tie translates to a win for Obama."


McCain apparently failed to get the "game changer" he needed to reverse his deficit in the polls, Silverleib said.


While the first of three scheduled debates between the two presidential candidates was billed as being about foreign policy – John McCain’s home turf - the financial crisis that took both men off the campaign trail for an unusual White House summit this week spilled over into the proceedings. Almost the entire first half of the 90-minute faceoff was devoted to arguments over how to shore up sagging credit markets and rescue Wall Street.


Debate watchers gave Obama a 21 percentage point edge -- 58 to 37 percent -- on the question of which candidate would do a better job handling the economy.


By a similar margin, those polled said Obama would be better able to deal with the current financial crisis facing the nation.


Cutting spending

John McCain and Barack Obama agreed about the dire state of the nation's economy Friday but differed sharply on how to jump-start it. Obama accused the Republican nominee of favoring the rich and McCain accused his Democratic rival of wanting to soak the middle class.


Obama maintained that the shaky credit market is a "final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies" backed by the Bush administration and GOP allies such as McCain. He argued that McCain's tax cuts would help the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. Obama argued that the nation's economic policies "have to be measured by whether or not the middle class is getting a fair shake."


The Democratic nominee blamed the meltdown of the mortgage lending and credit industry on the refusal of the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress to police Wall Street, and "an economic philosophy that says regulation is always bad."


While both used the words "greed" and "excess" to describe the practices that they vowed to change, they differed sharply over how to jump-start the economy that the credit crisis has left reeling.


"We have got to cut spending," McCain said. Obama argued for his plans to make investments in new green technology and the nation's infrastructure and schools. "There are some things we have to do structurally to compete in this global economy," he said.


McCain took pains to distance himself from the Republican brand, noting several times that he "didn't win Miss Congeniality in the U.S. Senate." He highlighted his differences with the Bush administration on torture policy and the treatment of terrorism suspects being held at GuantanamoBay in Cuba, the way the Iraq war was first conducted after the 2003 invasion of Baghdad and on federal spending.


"We Republicans came to power to change government, and government changed us," he said.


Handling foreign hot spots

On foreign policy issues, McCain has held an advantage, but his edge over Obama -- 49 percent to 45 percent -- on the question of which candidate would best handle terrorism is within the poll's 4.5 percent margin of error.


Obama insisted that the Iraq war has led to the loss of more than 4,000 American lives, diverted the nation from unfinished business in Afghanistan, and cost more than $600 billion — "soon to be a trillion." He told McCain that when the war began in 2003, the Arizona senator had predicted it would be "quick and easy," and that weapons of mass destruction would soon be found.


"You were wrong," Obama told McCain.


McCain criticized Obama for opposing President Bush's U.S. troop buildup in Iraq last year, which the Republican contends has put the United States on the road to victory. "I'm afraid Sen. Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy," McCain said.


McCain later hit Obama for saying he would support U.S. military strikes inside Pakistan.


"You don't do that," McCain said. "You don't say that out loud."


Obama said he preferred to go after al-Qaeda terrorists within Pakistan, and said he "didn't know how credible" McCain's criticism is given the fact he once he once jokingly referred to bombing Iran.


Still, both White House hopefuls agreed that Iran must be stopped from acquiring a nuclear bomb, which McCain said would amount to "an existential threat to the state of Israel." Obama called Iran "a rogue state." McCain said he believes that Iran's nuclear ambitions might be curbed by "significant meaningful sanctions" imposed by the United States and its European allies.


Diplomacy, energy differences

McCain mocked Obama's vow that he would meet with the leaders of North Korea, Iran and Cuba without preconditions — a point that Obama's Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, also did during the primaries.


Obama, noting a "bipartisan history" of U.S. presidents negotiating with the nation's enemies, stuck with his position. "I reserve the right as president of the United States to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it's going to keep America safe," he said.


Former secretary of State Henry Kissinger became a point of contention, as Obama argued that his philosophy of opening dialogues with U.S. enemies was in line with the diplomatic approach recommended by Kissinger during President Nixon's administration. Kissinger has endorsed McCain, who protested that Obama was putting words in Kissinger's mouth. "I've known him for 30 years," McCain said.


Both candidates urged a strong stand against Russia because of its invasion of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, last month.


McCain questioned whether Obama objected strongly enough to the invasion and advocated NATO membership for both Georgia and Ukraine. McCain said he doesn't expect a new Cold War, but "I do believe we need to bolster our friends and allies."


Obama said he did object to the Russian invasion and "the way they've been behaving lately deserves a sharp response."


They agreed Georgia's situation affected U.S. energy security, because a major oil pipeline runs through the country.


That inspired a dispute over domestic energy policy, as Obama knocked McCain's call for more offshore drilling for oil and gas. He said an expansion would not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil — "we can't simply drill our way out of the problem" — and he criticized McCain for voting against programs for alternative energy sources.


McCain said he favors a comprehensive policy that includes more oil drilling and more nuclear power plants, as well as alternatives such as wind and solar power. "Nobody can be opposed to alternative energy," he said.


Getting to Oxford

The two candidates arrived in Mississippi after an unexpected trip to Washington, which McCain triggered with an announcement Wednesday that he was suspending his campaign to join negotiations over a financial package to bail out shaky Wall Street firms.


After initially saying he wouldn't attend the debate without a deal on the rescue plan, McCain announced Friday morning that he was flying to Oxford because congressional negotiators had made "significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement."


Democrats accused the Arizona senator of political grandstanding and said he scuppered a potential deal by taking the side of House Republican critics.


"Now that Sen. McCain is safely in Mississippi, we can get back to serious work," House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., said on Capitol Hill.


Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., argued that McCain's intervention helped jump-start the talks over the bailout package by giving voice to the concerns of House Republicans. Otherwise, he said, those lawmakers would have attacked the plan and undermined public support for it. "The credit can be shared," Graham said.


Speaking to reporters aboard his plane before leaving Washington for the debate, Obama was less bullish about the candidates' effectiveness at a White House meeting with Bush and congressional leaders Thursday. "I am not sure that it was as productive as it could have been, but I think at this point it is important to just move forward," he said

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