The economy took center stage during tonight's town hall-style presidential debate at Nashville's Belmont University. Republican candidate John McCain offered a $300 billion plan to buy bad residential mortgages "and renegotiate at the new value of those homes, at the diminished value of those homes and let people make those, be able to make those payments and stay in their homes. Is it expensive? Yes.” Democratic candidate Barack Obama, who blamed President Bush and McCain for the economic problems, called his plan to cut taxes for households making less $250,000 a "rescue package."

Both candidates said they understood the public was upset the turn in the economy--the NY Times noted how McCain called Americans "innocent bystanders" while Obama said, "I understand your frustration and your cynicism. There’s a lot of blame to go around.” As for energy, McCain continued to talk about off-shore drilling, while Obama said the U.S. couldn't drill its way out of a problem. They also discussed foreign policy: McCain used the time to emphasis his experience, while Obama questioned the focus on Iraq and not Afghanistan.

McCain, whose campaign claims he excels in the town hall format, made efforts to connect with the audience, referring to members by names and touching them on the shoulder, while Obama came across as poised. In their closing remarks, Obama said, "We need fundamental change. That's what's at stake in this election. That's the reason I decided to run for president, and I'm hopeful that all of you are prepared to continue this extraordinary journey that we call America," while McCain said, "I'm asking the American people to give me another opportunity and I'll rest on my record, but I'll also tell you, when times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller and the great honor of my life was to always put my country first."

You can read the transcript here. The third and final debate is next Wednesday, October 15, 2008, at Hofstra University.