And the winner is…

Boxing cliches are popular in Presidential debates and, using one, John McCain needed to score a knockout Tuesday night to avoid losing his second debate with Barack Obama.

He didn’t get one. So he lost.

Like the economy that is sinking his Presidential hopes, McCain’s campaign is in free fall and his performance Tuesday night did nothing to slow the plunge.

It’s not that he did anything wrong. He held his own but that wasn’t enough.

Score round two for Obama. So far, he’s won two out of three.

Writes Roger Simon on The Politico:

Watching John McCain and Barack Obama at their second presidential debate was like watching two fighters circling each other, throwing a jab here, landing a blow there, but neither one ever delivering a knockout punch.

The trouble for John McCain, however, is that he needed one.

So if you had to say somebody lost Tuesday night, it was McCain. Because he had to win and he did not. He is the one who has to change the current trajectory of the campaign, and he did not do that.

McCain is behind in the national polls and way behind in the Electoral College vote projections. His party is lagging in voter registration in key state after key state, and in voter enthusiasm in general.

Apparently, McCain is feeling the pressure. Writes Mike Allen:

When Politico’s Ryan Grim approached Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) after the evening of the Senate bailout vote, the reporter didn’t even get his question out.

“Excuse me, you’re bothering me,” McCain said.

It was a surprising rebuke from a politician who once was famous for palling around with reporters, and who was so media-friendly that he was sometimes known as “the senator from ‘Meet the Press.’”

But what friends call “grumpy McCain” is showing up regularly on the campaign trail, and several top advisers worry that it’s hurting his campaign by making him appear peevish and hunkered down when the country is looking for a larger and more optimistic brand of leadership.

McCain’s mood won’t improve when he sees the overnight polls from the networks:

The insta-polls, which provide viewers with a somewhat skewed but important insight into how each candidate fared say, by and large, that Obama scored a victory in the second debate.

NBC’s focus group of undecided Pennsylvania voters had the Illinois Democrat winning by roughly a 60-40 split. Frank Luntz’s focus group, over at Fox, showed undecided voters leaning towards Obama because of his position on health care. CBS’s focus group of independents had the Democratic nominee winning the debate at 39 percent to McCain’s 27 percent, with 35 percent of the respondents saying it was a tie. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm, had a focus group of undecideds leaning to Obama by a margin of 42 percent to 24 percent.

Meanwhile, SurveyUSA interviewed 741 debate watchers in the state of Washington, 54 percent of whom thought Obama was the "clear winner" compared with McCain’s 29 percent. That same polling firm had the first debate as a tie. In tonight’s survey: 42 percent of respondents said McCain was too forceful.

And the CNN focus group of undecided voters in Ohio had the margin at an even wider spread: Obama 54 percent to McCain’s 30.

AFP’s take on the debate:

John McCain hammered away at unruffled front-runner Barack Obama in Tuesday’s second presidential debate but failed to land the cutting blow likely to revive his sliding poll numbers.

The under-pressure Republican White House hopeful came armed with an ambitious 300-billion dollar surprise plan to buy up the bad American mortgages that helped tip the global economy into crisis.

The Obama camp later claimed the proposal was part of the rescue plan signed into law late last week and that "it was Obama, not McCain, who called for this move two weeks ago."

The initiative, an apparent bid by McCain to twist Obama’s advantage on the economy in his favor, made few ripples during a sometimes muted debate that got most heated in clashes on the financial crisis, Pakistan and Iraq.

McCain was under intense pressure to throw his sliding campaign a lifeline, as he trails Democrat Obama by widening margins in national polls and in battleground states with time running out before the November 4 election.

Snap polls by US television networks awarded the debate, the second of a trio of presidential clashes, to Obama, who seemed as comfortable as his rival in the "town-hall" format which McCain loves.