Though the first presidential debate was supposed to cover national security and world affairs, it began with a series of questions about the ongoing financial crisis in the United States, and the responses of Democratic Senator Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain set the tenor for the rest of the often-tense 90-minute face-off.

Both men hit upon themes they would repeat over the course of the debate — Obama's attempts to tie McCain to the failed policies of the Bush administration and McCain's repeated assertions that Obama's views on world affairs were naive at best, uninformed at worst. And though he tried repeatedly at the outset of the debate to get the men to look at each other during the five-minute open segments of the program, moderator Jim Lehrer struggled to get McCain and Obama to engage each other as they tackled the issues.

"It's been your president who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time who supported this orgy of spending," Obama said, finally looking at McCain several minutes into the program. McCain, as he would often do during the debate, declined to make eye contact with his opponent, instead looking down at his lectern or in the opposite direction. "You voted for almost all of his budgets. To stand here and say that after eight years you're going to lead on controlling spending and balancing our tax cuts for middle-class families ... it's kind of hard to swallow."

Despite the turmoil of the past week — during which McCain proposed postponing the debate and put his campaign on hold to go to Washington to deal with the fiscal crisis — the tenor of the debate was relatively calm, if testy at points, with neither man appearing to strike a decisive blow or committing a serious gaffe.

Asked how they stood on the $700 billion financial-recovery plan that was being hashed out in Washington, Obama said that swift action was needed to deal with it and said his hope was that any plan would contain oversight, assurances that taxpayers who are putting their money at risk would get it back if the market returned, CEOs of failed companies were not getting "golden parachutes," and homeowners were helped to avoid foreclosure.

McCain said he was heartened to see Democrats and Republicans working together on the plan, adding, "We're talking about failures on Main Street and people who would lose their jobs and their credit and their homes if we don't fix the greatest fiscal crisis in our time. ... This isn't the beginning of the end of this crisis — this is the end of the beginning." McCain then repeatedly lashed Obama for requesting more than $900 million in earmarks and pork-barrel spending, saying, "That kind of thing is not the way to rein in runaway spending in Washington, D.C." Asked several times which parts of their economic priorities they would abandon given the expected cuts that would follow the passage of the expected $700 billion bailout, neither man would definitively commit to what programs they would cut, despite Lehrer's urging.

The economic back-and-forth set the stage for the real red meat of the debate: the foreign-policy segment, during which McCain returned often to his long history of experience in dealing with foreign powers and conflicts overseas.

Saying it is well-known that he has not been voted "Miss Congeniality in the Senate," McCain described how he was opposed to a number of Bush administration policies — from the torture of prisoners to the way the war in Iraq was initially executed, saying that he is known as a maverick in the Senate, in the same way his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, is known as a maverick in her state.

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