Third time's the charm

Final presidential debate turns out to be the liveliest

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- If the knock against their two previous debates was that they were kind of boring, John McCain and Barack Obama made up for lost time in their final debate.

With 20 days before the election and behind in the polls, McCain took the offensive on fronts that included the negative turns the campaigns have taken, Obama's health-care plan, ACORN, his association with a former weatherman and remarks by Congressman John Lewis about the tone of the McCain campaign on issues of race.

A supporting player -- at least for McCain -- was "Joe the Plumber," also known as Joe Wurzelbacher of Toledo, Ohio, whom Obama met on the campaign trail on Sunday. McCain often invoked "Joe" as the poster child/small business owner who would be hurt by Obama's plans. It was also often on the lips of reporters in the post-debate scrum, and on TV journalists' comments about the debate.

McCain hit back at the first mention of Bush, saying that if Obama wanted to run against the president he should have run four years ago.

Wednesday night's debate hit so many negative notes, McCain and Obama couldn't even agree on the issue of how many negative ads they were running.

"One hundred percent, John, of your ads, 100% of them have been negative," Obama said.

"It's not true," McCain said.

"It absolutely is true," Obama said. "And, now, I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply."

McCain countered that Obama had spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history.

"And I can prove it," he said.

Moderator Bob Schieffer received high marks for his no-nonsense handling of questions and follow-up. A number of journalists afterward said his moderating was the best of the four this year.

Schieffer wasn't doing any interviews tonight, not even on his own network.

"It was a conscious decision," said his boss, CBS News president Sean McManus, who attended the debate. He said his first discussion of it would be Thursday morning on "The Early Show."

But McManus had high praise for Schieffer when reached after the debate.

"I thought he was terrific," McManus said. "The candidates engaged, which is the purpose. He did exactly what a good moderator should do."
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