Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain answered questions from American voters and not the moderator. We asked our Observers if their questions and concerns were answered. Most of them said - No.


'Disgusted with the mud-slinging'

Tim Kenney, branding consultant, Bethesda, Maryland (Democrat)

The debate turned me off a little bit, but what was very interesting were the audience reactions just below the main picture, and it was fascinating to see that every time each candidate went negative the response on the part of the audience went negative.

I'm disgusted with the negative turn the campaign has taken. I feel McCain is desperate and resorting to mud-slinging. I do respect his experience, I do respect his judgement, but I really want to hear what he's going to offer. Unfortunately he seems to be offering the same old package. McCain could have done better than the sloganeering that Republicans tend to favour.

I wasn't impressed with Obama's better handle on clearer policies and that's what I was looking forward to – I want an answer to what plans on doing, and at this point, hearing the candidates' clear plan of action is critical.

Poo-flinging monkeys

Linda Sharp, parenting writer, Austin, Texas (independent)

Well, let's just start with something very basic. John McCain, I am not 'your friend'.

Prefacing every statement with the cloying, disingenuous 'my friends', working it into the middle of every sentence, ending each soliloquy with it. The term went from irksome to condescending to the point where I damn near sprained an eyeball from rolling them so hard each time it was uttered.

Moving on, the debate went down pretty much as predicted. With the past 36 hours, seeing the campaigns flinging more poo than a zoo full of monkeys, the tone between the men was much more tense. Each question, from the economy to foreign affairs, received a brief answer which quickly segued into each candidate trying to 'set the record straight' from the opponent's previous responses.

All the pundits predicted McCain would do well in this town hall format. I disagree. He seemed old, less than vigorous or presidential, and he spoke to the audience like were are small, stupid children.

Barack Obama, with all the cool he is known for, calmly sat on his stool while McCain rambled and wove the continual string of lies and half-truths of the GOP. He would then state his case, rebut the lies, straighten out the warped portrayals of his policy proposals, and move forward.

At no point was there disrespect in his tone towards McCain. McCain, however, was reeking of it, at one point even referring to Obama as 'that one'.

This debate will not change the minds of those who are dedicated to their candidates. My hope is that the undecideds will care enough to do some homework tomorrow and fact-check the statements that were made. Obama stuck to facts, McCain simply picked up another handful of poo and flung it as hard as he could.

'McCain's not a rock star but can make imaginative, tough decisions'

Alexander Stone Dale, former taxi driver, Manhattan, New York (Republican)

Six million Americans may have submitted questions for the debate, but moderator Tom Brokaw got to pick which ones were asked, so the entire debate was pre-edited.

Senator Obama spoke in the present tense about dealing with a corrupt dictator in Pakistan. He seems oblivious to the fact that Pakistan has elected President Asif Ali Zardari.

Senator Obama said that if we had not been distracted by the Iraqi theatre we could have finished the job in Afghanistan. Implying that if we had only stayed and only fought in Afghanistan that somehow al Qaeda wouldn't have – what? – not thought to regroup in Pakistan? How stupid is that?

'Does Senator McCain suffer from a charisma comparison to Governor Palin?'

McCain's not a rock star. But his choice of Sarah Palin shows he can make imaginative, tough decisions. Even if it means that he personally doesn't get to bask in the limelight for having made them. How George Washington of him. Joe Biden?

Long on the past, short on future plans

Ernesto Haibi, US Army medic, Copperas Cove, Texas (independent)

On 9/11 I said about the fanatics who attacked us, 'We will drag you kicking and screaming into the 21st century or leave your corpse in the 20th.' McCain is the 20th. He seemed to speak at and not to the questioners in the audience. He spoke too much about his past record without giving details on his future plans. He insulted one questioner when he said that the man had probably never heard of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before this recent economic incident. Also, referring to medical errors by saying 'as they call them' shows a detached semi-elitist world-view. Maybe a tip also, stop saying 'my friend'; it doesn't sound genuine.

On the other hand, Obama suffered from a similar disease, as both men gave a sort of 80/20 split between old material and fresh answers. On the plus side for Obama, having the richest, most famous investor in the world on your side is a coup, and McCain should not have quoted Buffet when trying to make Obama look economically inexperienced.

Both candidates seemed to give us the same answers to questions that weren't asked. If the next debate goes the same way, no one will change from whatever view they hold now.

McCain, again, is sounding more like the 20th century. He would have made a great president had he won in 2000. Sadly 2008 will usher a possible two-term president into the policies of the 21st century and into my children's adult lives.

McCain has to stop saying 'my friends'

Tim Bottaro, attorney, Sioux City, Iowa (Democrat)

McCain has been slipping in the polls and needed a game-changer but he didn't do that. I think he did a better job in the first debate. McCain's habit of saying 'my friends' was really annoying.

Next time we're going to count how many times he says 'my friend'. Senator Obama, meanwhile, seemed more presidential because he didn't get into petty attacks, and I think he will continue to rise in the polls.

As for my question on energy, Obama did a better job answering it and has a much clearer stand on the issue. McCain doesn't have an answer to why he's opposed to alternative energy for the past 26 years. He's never going to change from fossil fuels because he gets so much from oil companies.

'They're avoiding the immigration issue'

Jim Wilkinson, business owner, Mercedes, Texas (Republican)

Who won? If you're a democrat, you'll clearly see Barack Obama as the winner of this debate. If, you're a Republican, you'll think it's John McCain. Barack Obama speech was mostly generalities.

McCain scored points with his military background. When he goes and shakes hands with the panel member who served in the Navy, that's camaraderie. But at this point, economy is the crucial issue of the election. It might also be next debates' main topic.

As for my concerns, I'm really disappointed both parties are avoiding the issue of immigration. I think they don't want to lose the Hispanic votes.

'Significant difference between the candidates'

Julissa Reynoso, attorney,New York, New York (Democrat)

These candidates presented their philosophies, and they clearly have different views of the role of government. Their politics are starkly divergent.

In the economic context, McCain, for example, kept bringing up the earmarks that he alleges Obama used to benefit his constituents. McCain also keeps highlighting his plans for tax cuts as a possible counterpunch.

These points, however, simply do not stick with American voters the way they did in prior elections. These are dark times and Americans are looking for concrete plans of action to deal with their varied economic needs and anxieties. Obama has nuanced proposals to, at minimum, address the many economic and social worries affecting Americans.

Relatedly, what an interesting question was posed about what Americans are willing to do and sacrifice given this current state of affairs. McCain keeps bringing up the spending freeze with an exception for the military, as the major sacrifice. McCain's proposal, ironically, assumes that government can be solely charged with controlling the costs and burdens associated with bad policies and negative impacts.

Obama's response is more complex and comprehensive, and involves the state but also the citizenry. It brings in all the diverse ways Americans of all ages can help improve things - and share the burden. According to Obama, the idea is to set a tone of sacrifice and have all Americans share the costs according to what each can handle given their realities.

There was a significant difference between these candidates, and it manifested itself in the details and their views of responsibility and change.


Our Observers commented live on the France 24 channel.