Deseret News political columnists LaVarr Webb and Frank Pignanelli watched and judged Friday night's presidential faceoff between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama. Here's what they saw through partisan eyes:

The economy

Webb: It was close, with a slight edge to McCain. McCain turned the discussion into a forum on earmarks and budget cuts, while Obama tried to be more populist. McCain should have taken better advantage of the fact that he has been in the thick of the negotiations on the bailout, while Obama has been on the sidelines. McCain came through as more of a fighter against government waste.

Pignanelli: Obama detailed his conditions for the rescue package. Further, he clearly appealed to middle-income families, while McCain's constant references to controlling spending was admirable but overly technical. Obama best conveyed a domestic economic plan.

Foreign policy

Pignanelli: McCain obviously has experience in this area, but wasted time attacking Obama for not conducting subcommittee hearings (who cares?). Further, McCain pressed his idea of establishing a "league of democracies" to contain aggression. This is a phenomenally silly idea (concocted by the same neoconservatives who pushed us into Iraq). Obama demonstrated strength and wisdom by distinguishing his policies to "use military wisely." The realpolitik of 21st-century global dynamics is best understood by Obama.

Webb: McCain finished way ahead, although there was no knockout. McCain was far more knowledgeable, substantive and passionate. He knew the countries, names of leaders, more details and hammered Obama on meeting with enemies without preconditions.

Commander-in-chief

Webb: Anyone watching the debate had to be reassured that the country will be safe in the hands of John McCain, as opposed to a one-term senator who has never made difficult decisions, has never done anything substantive in the Senate, or had any executive experience.

Pignanelli: Obama articulated why military efforts in Afghanistan must be enhanced. Further, he distinguished himself by proving that judgment is imperative — a component missing in the Iraq occupation. Obama confirmed the strength and conviction needed in a military leader.

Boo-boos

Pignanelli: McCain dislikes Obama, which his body, voice and statements reflected. He came across as grumpy.

Webb: No fatalities on either side.

Style points

Webb: McCain was more comfortable, told more anecdotes people could relate to. He was more plain-spoken, clear and direct. Obama had a three-point plan for everything. He was too wonky, too analytical, too loquacious. He also did more eye-rolling and more interrupting. McCain got under his skin.

Pignanelli: Obama frequently flashed his famous smile. Graciously, but firmly, Obama responded to McCain's jabs. McCain delivered nice stories but his annoyance of Obama plagued his demeanor. Obama's style was better received in America's living rooms.

Exceeding expectations

Pignanelli: Many expected Obama to fumble on foreign policy, yet he was strong throughout the entire evening, conveying compassion and confidence. McCain didn't blow up, the secret worry of his supporters. By preventing a McCain home run, Obama surprised his critics.

Webb: McCain, but only by a few whiskers. He showed he can communicate effectively in the face of Obama's supposed eloquence. But Obama also did well by avoiding a major flub on foreign affairs.

The winner

Webb: McCain. This debate was not a game-changer, but McCain had the better night. His closing statement was far more effective than Obama's. He successfully cast doubt on Obama's readiness to be commander-in-chief. McCain's experience came through. He also very adroitly put distance between himself and the Bush administration, despite Obama's attempt to tie them together. McCain should be pleased with the night's work.

Pignanelli: Obama brilliantly painted McCain as an appendage of the failed Bush administration. McCain could have succeeded by imitating Ronald Reagan as the loving father trying to guide the wayward son. Instead, he is perceived as the grouchy old uncle always lecturing his nephew. Obama, holding his own with confidence and savvy, carried the night.


Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: [email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives. E-mail: [email protected].