28 Sep 2008

Obama wins first presidential debate - survey

10:54 am on 28 September 2008

An opinion survey among viewers of the first televised debate of the United States presidential election campaign suggests Barack Obama came out on top.

The poll, conducted for the US broadcaster CNN, found 51% thought the Democratic Party's candidate won the debate, while 38% said the Republican Party candidate John McCain gave the best performance.

However, analysts point out there was a slight bias, because there were more Democrats than Republicans in the audience.

The survey found men were evenly split, but 59% of women voters said Barack Obama was the winner while just 31% thought John McCain won the debate.

Both Democrat and Republican camps are claiming victory the day after their first debate in the run-up to November's presidential election.

The Obama camp cited several surveys that crowned him a slight winner and showed him making gains with undecided voters.

US economy and Iraq war dominated

In a 90-minute televised debate, the two candidates repeatedly clashed over their economic and foreign policy approaches in a series of sharp exchanges that highlighted broad gulfs in their policy views.

Senator McCain, who is 72, cast doubt on Barack Obama's readiness for the presidency, saying he does not have the knowledge or experience.

For his part, Senator Obama blamed the Wall Street crisis on failed Republican economic policies supported by Mr McCain.

Both men said they were optimistic Congress would come up with a $US700 billion rescue plan for the US economy but agreed the huge price tag would limit their agendas as president.

Mr McCain said he would freeze federal spending as president on most programmes other than defence and veterans' care, and accused Mr Obama of being a big-spending liberal who could not bring together Republican and Democrats.

"Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the Senate," Mr McCain said. "It's hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left."

Mr Obama said Mr McCain would cut taxes for the wealthy and slash corporate tax rates. He repeatedly tried to tie Mr McCain to the policies of President George W Bush.

"This is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policy promoted by George Bush and supported by Senator McCain," Mr Obama said of the economic crisis on Wall Street.

Mr Obama, an Illinois senator, said he would not be able to do everything he wanted in his administration because of the bailout, but said Mr McCain's proposal to freeze spending was "using a hatchet when you need a scalpel."

When the debate turned to foreign policy, Mr Obama criticised Mr McCain's judgment in supporting the US military invasion of Iraq. Mr McCain has been one of the most staunch advocates of the war.

Mr McCain attacked Mr Obama for his willingness to talk with leaders of hostile nations such as Iran without preconditions

Mr McCain has now returned to Washington where Congress is continuing talks on the proposed bailout of the US financial industry.

The debate was expected to be watched by many more than the 40 million Americans who saw the convention acceptance speeches of Mr McCain and Mr Obama, and could be a crucial factor for undecided voters in the 4 November election.