I got to watch the first debate on a taped rebroadcast today. My overall impression is that this was a ho-hum kind of debate but if there are things to be read in the tea leaves they are not good for McCain.
I was watching on CNN which had their focus groups with their approval tracking lines along the bottom. Most of the time Democrats, Republicans and Independents are all pretty flat at neutral. Predictably, Republicans liked most of what McCain said and disliked most of what Obama said. Democrats has the opposite opinion. That's the ho-hum stuff. The independents however varied a little and that's where it gets interesting.
When McCain hit on his main talking points, the independents were turned off. In particular, the independents did not like it when McCain attacked Obama's experience. They were also unimpressed with McCain's references to being a POW or his own experience. And they were fairly bored with the earmark talk. However, when Obama hit on his main points, the independents lined up with the Democrats more often than with Republicans. In particular, the independents seemed to like Obama's stance on the war in Iraq (they were unhappy with McCain's repeated attempts to keep the conversation stuck on Iraq however).
I would say that this debate was, overall, a snoozer. But given that foreign policy was supposed to be McCain's strong issue and he didn't firmly establish himself as superior on this issue, the advantage goes to Obama. McCain should also be worried that his own campaign's primary talking points were falling flat.
My own impression is that McCain appeared uncomfortable and a little cranky. Obama came off calm and in control. Indeed, there were several points where it was clear that Obama was the dominant personality in the conversation was capable of dictating the pace of the debate.