Paul Rios

Sam Pearson
Chloe Daley

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Final Presidential Debate

6:03 p.m. I'm in Mariposa Hall at the Government Department's final debate watch event. We have CNN up on a projection screen and professors have passed out debate scorecards and promise a discussion afterward. The department has held these events previously for both other presidential debates, as well as the vice-presidential debate. For whatever reason the crowd is much smaller tonight. Maybe after the third debate between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, these things are nothing new, or maybe the vice-presidential debate drew more from the Sarah Palin factor.

6:10 p.m., Joe the Plumber
First it was Joe Sixpack, now Joe the Plumber. McCain is coming out by attacking Obama on tax policy through an anecdote involving a man Obama met on the campaign trail. Chuckles are building in the room, especially at his characterization of Obama's plan as "class warfare." Obama reiterates that he wants to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.

6:20 p.m. "I am not Bush"
McCain is attacking Obama more aggressively this time around. In response to Obama tying him to President Bush, McCain said emphatically that "I am not President Bush," and that if Obama wanted to run against Bush, he should have run four years ago.

6:25 p.m. Stronger Attacks
Obama explains that "you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush" on most issues that matter, especially economic policies. The candidates are directly addressing each other, which has been rare in these debates. Having them directly sit across a table from each other seems to be working, as well as moderator Bob Scheiffer's questions.

Scheiffer asks if either of them will say to each other's face the kind of language their campaigns have been throwing around in recent weeks. "Go Bob," someone in the room said.

6:38 p.m. Ayers, ACORN, etc.
Obama talks about how "we can disagree without being disagreeable." McCain, in split-screen, sighs and then cuts him off to bring up William Ayers and allegations around ACORN, a liberal voter registration group. The timing of it seems a little forced, and a little ironic considering the point Obama was trying to make. He has made it before, but not as prominently as tonight since earlier stump speeches. Obama is clearly prepared to rebut both charges. He says he has nothing to do with ACORN, and dismisses past ties to Ayers. He changes the subject to economic and foreign policy associations, listing Warren Buffett and his running mate Sen. Joe Biden as people who would actually be advising him in the White House. This focus "says more about your campaign than it says about me," he says.

6:45 p.m. Running Mates
Scheiffer asks both candidates why their running mate would make a better president than their opponent's running mate. The most obvious implication would be if Obama directly criticizes Gov. Sarah Palin, who many have derided as unqualified. Obama himself has avoided saying so explicitly. He mostly dodges the question.

McCain calls Palin "a role model to women and reformers across America" and launches into her biography, the details of which have been widely reported. Notably, CNN's opinion metric of undecided Ohio voters -- which is separated into two lines for men and women -- the male line shoots up, while the women hold steady at the neutral threshold.

An older woman in the audience here was making comments on McCain's speech -- like "what a risk we took" by selecting Palin. A male student who evidently disagreed said, "Can you shut up?"

Evidently we're disagreeing, and being disagreeable.

7:01 p.m. Healthcare
McCain brings up Joe the Plumber again, saying that Obama's health plan would fine his small business for not being able to afford to provide healthcare. He again presses Obama as to what the fine would be -- a line he played up in the last debate. Obama responds that the fine would actually be zero because small businesses were exempted from that if they couldn't afford it. McCain looks genuinely confused. "He just had a stroke," someone remarks. Obama shifts the subject to McCain's health plan.

7:12 p.m. Roe v. Wade
Scheiffer asks if either candidate could nominate a candidate to the Supreme Court who disagrees with them on this issue. (McCain thinks it should be overturned; Obama doesn't.) McCain says he "has never imposed a litmus test" on judicial nominees. Without entirely answering the question, he shifts to his past votes. He said he would consider anyone who has the right qualifications but when pressed says that anyone who supported Roe v. Wade does not meet those qualifications.

Obama says that Roe v. Wade "probably hangs in the balance" of this election, since the next president will probably make one or two appointments to the Supreme Court. Obama says "women are in the best position to make this decision," and said he believes the Constitution has a right to privacy that states should not be able to alter.

McCain says Obama's record is aligned with "the extreme pro-abortion movement."

7:20 p.m. Education (last question)
The United States spends more per capita on education than any other education but trails most other countries, Scheiffer says.

Obama says education needs both more money and reform to the system. He said he proposed a $4,000 tuition credit in exchange for military service, service in the Peace Corps or a certain amount of community service work. He said students are ending up with mortgages before they even buy a house because of the amount they borrow to attend college.

McCain calls education "the civil rights issue of our time." He said students need choices like charter schools instead of "failed" public schools in low-income areas. "Throwing money at the problem is not the answer," he said, because some of the worst school systems get the most money per student. He called for fewer examinations for students seeking to earn a teaching credential.

Obama said that while there was a tradition of local control of schools, the federal government needed to come through and help schools. He said Bush tried this with the No Child Left Behind Act, but that didn't work because it wasn't funded adequately and hurt school districts. He said he wanted to focus on early childhood education and increasing teaching salaries in exchange for greater accountability. He said he disagrees with McCain on the use of school vouchers, which he said would not be effective. He said one of McCain's economic advisers said they had few college affordability programs because they can't give money to every interest group. Obama said America's youth aren't just another interest group.

McCain said school vouchers are popular in the District of Columbia's school system.

When talking about special education McCain brought up children with autism. He said his running mate, Palin, knows about children with autism "better than most," even though Palin's son has downs syndrome.

7:27 p.m. Closing Statements
Is the election really in just under three weeks? McCain is giving his closing statement -- soon, another four years before we see another debate at this level. McCain says the country needs change and has to stop spending and "mortgaging your children's futures." He said all their proposals hinge on whether voters can trust them. "I've spent my entire life in the service of this nation and putting my country first," he says.

Obama thanks Scheiffer and McCain. He says the policies of the last eight years show that the biggest risk would be to adopt the same policies and expect a different result. He said Republicans and Democrats needed to come together and renew a sense of responsibility and sacrifice and that he would work "tirelessly."

Bob Scheiffer concludes the debate. "Go vote now, it'll make you feel big and strong," he says, repeating a line he says came from his mother.

7:36 p.m. Time to score the debate
Professors turn the lights up and students work on debate scoring worksheets. Time to tally substance vs. style.

Substance: 17
Style: 12
Overall: 15

Substance: 1
Style: 4
Overall: 1

Six say they performed equally on substance, while three think so on style. Four call the debate a tie.

Students joke about voting present. "Do it for Joe the Plumber," someone says.

Second place is equal, third place McCain.

7:45 p.m. Student reactions
"McCain was attacking Obama's character instead of dealing with the issues," said Diana Gonzalez.

McCain appealed to emotion instead of facts, a student said.

A student lamented the lack of discussion on immigration, and focus on campaign tactics instead.

Students are asked if McCain changed any minds and potentially could turn around his slide in the polls? A student said McCain was more clear on education and she had trouble following Obama, but had trouble keeping track of McCain too.

Students talked about the Troops to Teachers program and how the program allowed returning troops to become teachers by only taking a few classes, by counting their military experience as credits. They were confused as to how this was possible.

McCain was "way too candid, too blunt," said Elizabeth Martinez. "I can't expect him to say anything professional."

Others thought they could more easily relate to McCain.