The muted tone of the night was a marked contrast to the increasingly negative approach the candidates are taking in their campaign speeches and in their TV ads. But neither wanted to seem overbearing or nasty in the debate, when it was unclear who would benefit from going negative. So they were cautious and largely on their best behavior. Neither mentioned the hottest charges to have arisen in the past few days--the McCain campaign's attempts to link Obama with former antiwar radical William Ayers, who plotted violent acts 40 years ago, and the Obama campaign's attempts to link McCain to a savings and loan scandal from the 1980s.
At one point, however, McCain let his pique show when he referred to Obama as "that one" and gestured to his rival as he asked if the audience knew who voted for an energy bill "loaded down with goodies" for special interests. Some Obama supporters said McCain was being condescending.
As they did in their first debate, both candidates said they would bring fundamental change to Washington. And it's clear that change is a big issue on voters' minds. The latest Gallup Poll found that only 9 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction, the lowest number ever recorded in the three decades since the question was first asked. Nearly 70 percent of voters say the economy is the top issue.
The discussion was held in Nashville and moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw. The third and final presidential debate is scheduled for next week.