(CNN) - Barack Obama's victory in Pennsylvania - big enough that CNN could call it early, without waiting for many votes to be counted - is a crushing defeat for John McCain.
The Republicans threw everything they could into winning there, even outspending the Democrats for a short time. That's because they thought that Obama was likely to pick up enough red states to go over the top; Pennsylvania was the one blue state that the GOP thought it could take.
The Republican firewall has now been washed away - and victory is almost within the grasp of Obama. Indeed, there are growing signs this could be a big, big night for Obama. Let's wait and see.
John McCain had a very strong start in the first 30 minutes or so, and I thought that he was heading toward a debate victory - his first. But he veered off course in the middle as the conversation turned toward the negative quality of the campaign - and he became more and more the angry, older candidate, bringing back memories of the performance by Bob Dole back in 1996 that helped to doom his campaign. He also seemed to grow more tired over the course of the debate.
Barack Obama had a good first answer about his economic plan then seemed flat for the rest of the first half hour. But then things picked up for him. During the assaults by McCain, he kept his cool - he never took the bait (rumors were heavy before the debate that McCain would try to goad him into losing his steadiness). Coming out of that second half hour, Obama became much stronger in the last third of the debate, scoring extremely well on health care, education, abortion, and the Supreme Court.
McCain likely helped himself with his base tonight, but I doubt that he helped himself much with undecided voters.
Overall, I would score Obama at an A minus for the night, and McCain at a B plus.
It appears that Obama will come out of these debates with a general public perception that he has won three in a row.
PS: A hearty salute to tonight's moderator, Bob Schieffer, he deserves an A plus.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/07/art.candidates.jpg caption="CNN Contributor David Gergen gives McCain a ‘B’ and Obama a ‘B+’"]
(CNN)–A few hits, some runs and no major errors - that was the way this second debate struck me. The format was far too confining so that neither candidate could answer in depth and viewers were left with a sense of disappointment that they hadn't heard enough about specifics. Too often, we heard the same arguments we heard in the last debate.
John McCain was more effective on domestic issues than he was on the second debate but flatter on national security. Periodically, he made an excellent argument and he was more composed than earlier. Interestingly, he never went as negative as feared (e.g., he never talked - as Sarah Palin has on the stump - about the past associations of his opponent).
Barack Obama showed once again that he is more articulate and a better debater, able to weave together arguments and themes with great skill. Once again he was also steady. But he was hardly on fire and he didn't give us much more insight - or new ideas - about the economic crisis now gripping the country.
So, my scores tonight are lower than last week:
Obama B plus
Politically, this debate strikes me as good news for Obama and bad news for McCain. With two straight victories under his belt, Obama has established in the minds of many voters that he is as qualified to be President as McCain –and given the economy, that means he should have strengthened his position.