Time's Halperin says McCain won the debate handily, giving him an A- to Obama's B.
Halperin on McCain: "During the first half of the debate, showed off the best of himself -- dedicated, sincere, patriotic, cheery, earnest, commanding--all without seeming old or anxious. Even scored some points in the 'change' category, against the candidate who has owned the theme. ... if a majority of persuadable voters watched the debate, they saw why McCain's advisers have faith in him and still believe he can win this race."
Halperin on Obama: "During the first half of the debate, too often displayed his worst traits--petty, aloof, imperious--and behaved as if he had someplace better to be, although he became warmer and more engaged as the evening progressed. Did not seem to have an explicit strategy; instead, he answered the questions piecemeal as they came his way, without driving a message or even a theme. Retained his consistently unflappable air, and had a few fine moments. If he was sitting on his lead, it worked - but perhaps at the expense of relinquishing part of it."
CNN's poll of debate viewers found that 58 percent thought Obama won; only 31 percent thought McCain won. 66 percent thought Obama expressed his views more clearly; only 25 percent thought McCain did. 56 percent said Obama seemed to be the stronger leader; only 39 percent said McCain. 70 percent said Obama was more likable; only 22 percent said McCain.
CBS polled uncommitted viewers, and found that by a 53-22 margin, they thought Obama won.
UPDATE: CNN's John King keeps trying to spin away CNN's poll, saying he's very skeptical because viewers skewed Democratic. But Campbell Brown has detailed the exact breakdown several times, with John King sitting right there. 40 percent of debate watchers were Democrats, 30 percent were Republicans, 30 percent were independents. If that skews in favor of the Democrats in comparison to the general electorate, it does so only slightly -- nowhere near enough to explain away, as King keeps trying to do, the huge margins by which debate viewers preferred Obama.
UPDATE 2: Further undermining King's skepticism: CNN's poll found 57 percent of independents who watched the debate thought Obama won; only 31 percent thought McCain won.
UPDATE 3: Nate Silver: King is "a little bit out of line in critiquing his own poll, which he's said is skewed toward Democrats (the sample was something like D40, R30). It's skewed toward Democrats because America is skewed toward Democrats! The party ID split in the country right now is very close to 40/30."