McCain argued to have a lifetime of experience in war and peace. Obama claimed to have the vision and the judgment to reverse the eight years of the Bush administration and decisions John McCain supported 90 percent of the time.
Finally, the campaign clutter gave way to 90 minutes of clarity as John McCain and Barack Obama met face to face in the first of three presidential debates beginning with their take on a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street which they both support with conditions.
"This is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain. The theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most and somehow prosperity will trickle down. It hasn't worked," said Obama.
"We're here tonight in this debate. We are seeing for the first time in a long time Republicans and Democrats together sitting down trying to work out a solution to this fiscal crisis," said McCain.
Another clash is over taxes and spending, specifically the so-called earmarks that Obama supported until recently and McCain's always opposed.
"I've got a pen. And I'm going to veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk. I will make them famous. You will know their names," said McCain.
"Earmarks account for $18 billion in last year's budget. Senator McCain is proposing, and this is a fundamental difference between us, $300 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country," said Obama.
Senator Obama didn't mention that along with his tax cuts, he's also proposing some $800 billion in new spending on new programs.
"That's a fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. I want to cut spending. I want to keep taxes low," said McCain.
They described their difference when it comes to the economic argument.
"Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the United States. It's hard to reach across the aisle from that that far to the left," said McCain.
"Me being wildly liberal, mostly that's me opposing George Bush's wrong-headed policies," said Obama.
The most controversial exchange came over the war in Iraq, which McCain has supported, especially after the troop surge last year.
"This strategy has succeeded. And we are winning in Iraq. And we will come home with victory and with honor. Senator Obama said the surge could not work, said it would increase sectarian violence, said it was doomed to failure," said McCain.
"When the war started you said it would be quick and easy and where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said we would be greeted as liberators. We were - you were wrong," said Obama.
McCain talked passionately and from personal experience about the ravages of war and his disagreement with Obama about face-to-face meetings with hostile world leaders like Ahmadinejad of Iran.
"I reserve the right as president of the united states to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it's going to keep America safe," said Obama.
"What Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand, that without precondition, you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a stinking corpse and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments. This is dangerous," said McCain.
John McCain was most passionate in the second half of the debate as he argued for a very tough foreign policy and claimed that Barack Obama was simply too naive to run the country in these dangerous times. Foreign policy has been McCain's strong suit.
Barack Obama was very strong in the first half of the debate as he took it to McCain over the bailout of Wall Street, taxes and spending, in effect blaming McCain for many of the mistakes in the Bush administration and saying the Iraq war never should have been fought, whether or not the surge was successful.
It was a very feisty 90 minutes.
The next debate is coming up on October 2 at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri when the vice-presidential nominees, Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin, will be facing off against each other. That debate will be the first and the only vice-presidential debate.