Final debate results: McCain needs miracle

This editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

John McCain, down in the polls, desperately needed a game-changing moment Wednesday night. Though more aggressive than in two prior debates with Barack Obama, he never really came close.

All eyes were on McCain, in deep trouble less than three weeks out, and he turned in his best performance of the three debates. Though both candidates were frustratingly vague about what they would cut amid our economic crisis, McCain was much more specific. This is a substantive and important difference, though neither adequately answered concerns about the exploding deficit.

Yet nothing McCain said — not even a brief and wincingly uncomfortable foray into Bill Ayers territory — threw off Obama, who generally appeared commanding and, frankly, presidential. The far more experienced McCain had to communicate that he is the more stable and secure choice to lead the nation through the present storm.

McCain came across as brittle and petulant at times; Obama cruised through with his effortless unflappability. One would not have been surprised to have seen the Republican lose his cool like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. At least that would have provided some drama amid the canned rhetoric.

McCain's need to turn up the heat may have led him to undermine the best case for his candidacy. He really was in a Catch-22. Absent an Obama stumble, there was almost no way for him to win Wednesday night. And so he didn't.

Given Obama's solid lead in the polls, the precipitous decline in the markets and the remorseless march of the campaign calendar, McCain will need a miracle now.