John McCain turned in a relatively strong showing to stem the bleeding after an absolutely disastrous week (The bailout! The Katie Couric/Sarah Palin interview! The debate cancellation fiasco!).
But Barack Obama also performed well, landing the sharpest blows of the night with his series of statements about the Iraq war ("You were wrong").
I'm inclined to call it a narrow win for Obama, though one could also argue for a tie or a narrow McCain victory.
The problem is that McCain couldn't afford a narrow, tactical victory. He needed a clear, strategic victory that changed the current arc of the election, which, thanks to the bailout and an increasingly negative view of Sarah Palin*, is trending very badly for McCain.
Obama is ahead, and can simply run out the clock. Like a football team with a 4th quarter lead, all he has to do is keep grinding out first downs and killing the clock. He doesn't need to score any touchdowns.
McCain, in contrast, needs to gamble on going long to have any chance at victory. And he didn't manage to connect downfield against Obama's prevent defense.
I called the election earlier today, and I've seen nothing that makes me less confident about the eventual accuracy of my prediction.
* I can't bring myself to watch the Couric interview, but the universal judgment seems to be that it was a fiasco. It is a shame to see a promising political career get submarined like this. I tend to agree with one piece I read recently which speculated that Palin, who was previously a strong media performer, is suffering a crisis of confidence from being overcoached. Perhaps they should just let Palin be Palin...it would certainly be better than having her recite talking points.