I will be exceedingly interested in what the polls say about tonight's debate. The pundits are clearly impressed with McCain. And I do think he did a better job of getting his points across than in past match-ups. But I also think he consistently looked awful: twitchy, angry, anxious, exasperated, poised for takeoff. Even when he had Obama on the defensive he looked, let us say, unsettled.
On some level, I'll be impressed if the general public gives McCain decent marks for the substance of his performance. But I wouldn't count on it. Optics matter. And McCain no longer seems capable of coming across as the happy warrior. My guess is this will be more like the Nixon-Kennedy match up, where Nixon arguably won on radio but lost on TV. Or like poor Al Gore's 2000 performance, where he "won" on points but really lost with all that huffing and puffing and eye-rolling.
Update: As I was posting, Chris stuck his head in to report that the instapolls are starting to come back with an overwhelming win for Obama. Do I think Obama blew McCain away on substance? No way. It's the visuals, baby. Obama is a master. McCain is a disaster.