Who Won Round Two?

The stakes were high and the window of opportunity narrowing for John McCain going into Tuesday's second presidential debate. Barack Obama's lead in the polls is significant and even conservative commentators agree the odds are daunting for a McCain comeback.

But not all hope for McCain has been extinguished, in large part because Sarah Palin has revived the base's spirits and come out swinging on Obama's connections to a shady and problematic cast of characters — from the husband and wife team of former terrorists (Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn) to Tony Rezko to Reverend Wright. Then on Monday Obama's team went so far as to argue that Obama did not really know that Ayers — the infamous former Weather Underground member and Obama's colleague at the Annenberg Challenge and the Woods Fund — was a former terrorist. The Obama spin brigade doubled down on Tuesday, insisting that Obama had no idea who the notorious terrorist really was when he showed Obama around Chicago, sat with Obama on boards, and kicked off his political career in Ayers' living room.

Not even the usually forgiving Obama press corps was buying that one. Aside from the fact that excuse previously had never been trotted out, it strains all credulity to image that a media drenched, politically astute Chicago resident like Obama would have been unaware of Ayers and his wife's record.

So with all of that, hopeful Republicans and nervous Democrats perked up: would we finally have some debate fireworks and would McCain finally come out swinging (as he did in an appearance in New Mexico on Monday), with his "gloves off" as Palin advised him?

Well fireworks there were not. The debate lagged and dragged and at times was downright dull. Tom Brokaw cracked the whip on time, but alas he couldn't add much excitement or get the candidates to answer simple questions like how much would Obama "fine" businesses for not carrying health care coverage that meets government mandates.