Snap polls from SurveyUSA (which gave last night's debate to Barack Obama over John McCain, 56 percent to 26) and mediacurves.com (in which Obama outperformed McCain 52 - 34 among independents) seem to confirm the initial read that Obama won the debate comfortably.
But worse for McCain, I think, than any of these top numbers are some of the nuggets buried in last night's CNN poll (which had Obama up 54 - 30 overall). Those surveyed thought Obama was more intelligent than McCain by 57 - 25 and expressed himself more clearly by 60 - 30. Obama reversed a prior weakness as well, leading in the "stronger leader" category 54 - 43. McCain, for his part, prevailed in the categories you'd rather lose: "attacked more" (a whopping 63 - 17) and "more like a typical politician," which he took by 16 points.
But the real killer looks to be in the category that doomed the last two Democratic presidential nominees: likeability. Those polled by CNN found Obama more likeable by a devastating margin of 65 to 28 percent. I don't have comparable numbers from past races at my fingertips, but I think it's safe to say that no candidate who has been substantially less likeable on television than his opponent has won the presidency in over thirty years. Yes, of course, it's only one debate, and a lot could happen in the next few weeks. But that was a very bad night for John McCain.