A mythology has grown up about presidential debates that needs to be debunked. Nixon didn't lose the 1960 election because of a five o'clock shadow. Reagan didn't nail 1980 with "there you go again". Al Gore didn't blow 2000 by treading on GWB's space or showing up with the orange glop makeup.
Debates are about impressions and revelations about the personae. Thus, they are important, but only as one more indicator of that complex interplay between personalities and issues which actually determines the outcome. Polls had Carter and Reagan neck-and-neck long after their famous debate. Only in the last few days was there a decisive movement to Reagan- the electorate's gut reaction to the prospect of four more years of Carter's leadership, killer rabbits, Iran, hostages, stagflation and all the rest. The other two elections remained close because the respective VP's represented highly popular administrations which were nonetheless in considerable difficulty, so there was some momentum for the challengers.
John McCain performed well. He displayed much greater command of facts than Obama. He spoke with energy and passion, thus putting an end to the Age Thing. He looked more of a scrapper than the glib and cool Obama, and everyone knows the next president will have some fighting to do. McCain effectively dispatched the meme that he is Bush's third term.
At times, Obama did well on debating points, just like Nixon. Here, bias inevitably clouds analysis. The MSM is running with the theme that Obama won because foreign policy is McCain's strong suit and McCain didn't knock him out. The latter is true. But the debate was not really about foreign policy, it was about WAR, especially as Obama insisted on framing everything in terms of Iraq. So despite the debating points, the discussion most likely focused voter attention on the next president as Commander-In-Chief, and there is no way that Obama will EVER win that one.
Moreover, the economy hovered over the debate like Marley's ghost over Scrooge's bowl of gruel. It is supposed to be the Dems' strong suit, especially this year, and Obama didn't come close to knocking McCain out when the economic questions were asked. Not at all. And when the next debate takes place, which IS supposed to be on the economy, the bailout will have either passed or failed, liberating McCain to focus on the causes of the mortgage debacle. Where he will be free to go into which candidate was in bed with a convicted real estate felon, and which party made Fannie Mae into its own fiefdom!