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Open Season on Small Game

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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, October 8, 2008

NASHVILLE, Oct. 7

John McCain needed a big night at Tuesday's second presidential debate to turn around a race that seems to be getting away from him. So he hit Barack Obama where it hurts: in the overhead projector.

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McCain was asked about the global economic crisis. The Republican candidate answered by accusing Obama of voting for "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago."

Minutes later, another questioner at the town-hall-style debate asked what sacrifices would be required to restore the American dream. McCain answered that "we have to eliminate the earmarks," including -- you guessed it -- "the overhead projector that Senator Obama asked for."

The markets took another plunge Tuesday in what pretty much everybody calls the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And we're talking about overhead projectors?

It was, perhaps, an impossible task for McCain. Before the debate, the question had been whether he could turn in a "game-changing" performance that would shake up the race. But the format -- taking wide-ranging questions directly from voters -- largely prevented the candidates from engaging each other in an extended back-and-forth. The result was less game-changing than small-game hunting.

A questioner asked how the bailout would help ordinary people. McCain answered by taking a shot at "Senator Obama and his cronies" at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "Senator Obama was the second-highest recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history -- in history," he said.

Moderator Tom Brokaw asked about the economy's prospects. McCain spoke about a letter he'd written on the topic. "Senator Obama's name was not on that letter," he said.

Another questioner asked how the two could be trusted with the people's money. McCain responded by calling Obama's "the most liberal big-spending record in the United States Senate."

Obama wasn't about to let McCain beat him at small-game hunting. The result: At a time of crisis and uncertainty, the nation heard 90 minutes of often-petty bickering between the two men who would lead the nation:

"Senator McCain's campaign chairman's firm was a lobbyist on behalf of Fannie Mae."

"Senator Obama has voted 94 times to either increase your taxes or against tax cuts."


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