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Politics

The Debate That Was, The Debate That Will Be

Joe Biden won, but Sarah Palin was the winner, using a wink and her folksy charm to show she's one of "us." and most importantly, avoiding any serious miscue.

Joe Biden won, but Sarah Palin was the winner, using a wink and her folksy charm to show she's one of "us." and most importantly, avoiding any serious miscue. Republicans are obviously breathing a sigh of relief, or as David Brooks aptly put it this morning, they may have started watching the debate from behind the couch in trepidation but by the end of the night they were standing on it and cheering. The disaster the GOP feared -- a 90-minute replay of Palin's interview with CBS -- didn't happen.

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But while Palin stopped the hemorrhaging that began with that shaky CBS performance, she didn't win any converts, and that means the pressure is back on John McCain, who still needs a game changer.

With so much attention focused on the debate, it was easy to miss the real news of yesterday -- that McCain was pulling his ads and staff from Michigan, effectively conceding the state to Obama. Only two weeks ago, he was battling Obama to a near tie in the state, which holds a big 17 electoral votes. As the financial crisis grew in recent weeks and the economy took center stage again, McCain also had to watch as Obama pulled ahead in Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa and Wisconsin. In our electoral vote map, we now show all those states leaning toward the Democratic ticket.

Even more worrisome for McCain, Obama is showing new strength in the toss-up states of Florida, Virginia and Ohio. And states that McCain once counted on winning -- North Carolina and Indiana -- have moved into the toss-up category. If McCain can't win all of those, the election is probably lost.

While polls are fraught with more uncertainty than ever this year because of the racial factor and the growing number of cell phone-only households that aren't counted by most pollsters, the trends are ominous for McCain, and they increase the stakes for him at Tuesday's second presidential debate. The format -- a modified town hall meeting -- is his favorite, but in this case it may work against him. He needs to come out aggressively swinging at Obama and it's harder to do that in a folksy setting.  But McCain needs a game changer and this is his next opportunity. He still has time for one, but not enough to waste.

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