Update as of 0800 Eastern Time:
Bottom Line Up Front:
1. Presidential Debate
2. Pakistan and China
From Fox News (Debate):
The presidential candidates and their running mates are hitting the battleground states running Thursday, as Barack Obama tries to maintain his lead and John McCain tries to shake it following last night's final debate.
With fewer than three weeks to go until Election Day, McCain tried to recharge his campaign Wednesday with a volley of allegations directed at his rival's honesty, judgment and empathy for tax-burdened Americans.
Seated just a few feet from McCain, Obama calmly attempted to deflect every charge, accusing McCain of going negative in the final weeks of the campaign and distorting the facts about his past associations and record.
McCain plans to build on his argument Thursday in Pennsylvania, while his running mate Sarah Palin hits Maine and North Carolina. Obama starts his day in New Hampshire.
Reviews of the debate were mixed. McCain was widely seen as the aggressor, but it was unclear whether that was enough to change up the race.
Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and McCain's former GOP primary rival, told FOX News he expects the momentum to shift, and that McCain will see a "slow but sure increase" in the polls.
But conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said, "(The debate) was a dead draw, which means Obama won resoundingly."
He said Obama was "remarkably unruffled" by McCain's steady jabs at the debate.
The debate Wednesday was far more combative than the previous two -- likely a reflection of the fact it was a key opportunity for McCain to halt Obama's growing momentum in the polls.
But although the recent economic turmoil seems to have hurt McCain's standing, the Republican nominee used the intimate format Wednesday to challenge Obama's economic ideas directly and rebut the Democratic campaign's central argument, that McCain stands for four more years of Bush administration policies.
"Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you want to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago," McCain said.
But Obama responded: "If I've occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people -- on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities -- you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush."
Obama stuck with the argument, saying in his closing statement that the "biggest risk" American voters could take is adopting the "same failed policies and the same failed politics" of the last eight years.
Both candidates accused each other of turning negative in the closing weeks of the campaign, and of allowing harsh and offensive comments from supporters to go unchallenged.
McCain complained Obama was giving Democratic Georgia Rep. John Lewis a pass after Lewis over the weekend suggested McCain was fostering a climate of intolerance similar to that stoked by segregationist George Wallace.
"That to me was so hurtful, and Senator Obama, you didn't repudiate those remarks," McCain said, calling segregation the "worst chapter in American history."
Obama said it was inappropriate for Lewis to draw that comparison but said the congressman was not prompted by the Obama campaign. And he accused McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, of permitting audience members to shout things like "terrorist" and "kill him" at their rallies.
From CNN (Debate):
Sen. John McCain played offense against Sen. Barack Obama during much of the final presidential debate as he challenged his rival on his policies, judgment and character.
Obama said he is the candidate who can bring "fundamental change" to the country and continued to try to link McCain to President Bush.
In one of the more forceful moments of the debate, McCain turned to Obama and said, "I am not President Bush."
"If you want to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I'm going to give a new direction to this economy and this country," the Arizona senator said.
McCain aides said they had been working on him to be more explicit in drawing a distinction between himself and Bush.
With less than three weeks before the election, it was one of several jabs McCain took at his opponent, who is leading the race in most national polls and has an 8-point lead in CNN's average of national polls.
A CNN/Opinion Research poll of people who watched the debate found 58 percent said Obama did the best job while 31 percent said McCain did
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, and the sample of debate-watchers in the poll were 40 percent Democratic and 30 percent Republican.
McCain touted what he called his "long record of reform" and said to Obama: "You have to tell me one time when you have stood up with the leaders of your party on one single major issue."
Obama said he has a "history of reaching across the aisle" and pointed to his support for charter schools, pay for performance for teachers and clean coal technology
From CNN (Pakistan and China):
Pakistan's president was set to meet with China's premier Thursday, a day after clinching agreements boosting Chinese involvement in his country's ailing economy.
Asif Ali Zardari was also scheduled to hold talks with top legislator Wu Bangguo and other senior Chinese leaders, along with major figures in finance, infrastructure, energy and telecommunications.
On Wednesday, Zardari met with President Hu Jintao and highlighted the historic friendship between his country and China. Such ties loom ever larger, as Pakistan seeks assistance in alleviating an economic crisis brought on by higher food and energy prices.
Agreements signed between the sides included deals on economic and technical cooperation, minerals, environmental protection, agricultural research, and electricity.
Specifics on the deals were not immediately available. But the state-run China Daily newspaper said Thursday one of the agreements was for China to launch a telecommunications satellite for Pakistan in the first half of 2011 from a launch center in Sichuan, in China's southwest.
A possible deal between the countries on civilian nuclear power was not mentioned. Such an agreement would have served as a counterpoint to a recent deal between India and the United States that cleared the way for American businesses to sell nuclear fuel and technology to India for use in its civilian programs.
Ties between Pakistan and China have long been founded on mutual suspicion of joint neighbor India, against which both have fought bloody border wars.
From CNN (Azerbaijan):
The president of oil-rich Azerbaijan has been re-elected to a second five-year term by landslide, according to early official returns released Thursday.
With 70 percent of precincts counted, Ilham Aliyev won 89.04 percent of Wednesday's vote, Central Election Commission chief Mazahir Panahov said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent more than 400 election observers, has criticized the government for election campaign irregularities, including a ban on public opposition meetings and apparent efforts to coerce students and government workers into attending pro-Aliyev rallies.
Aliyev, who has led the oil-rich Caspian nation since 2003 succeeding his late father, faced six opponents in Wednesday's vote, none of whom was considered a true challenge. Aliyev's rivals rushed to congratulate him on the victory after the early returns were announced.
"These elections have opened a new stage in the country's development and open a new chapter in relations between the government and the opposition," said one of them, Iqbal Aga-Zade.
The top five opposition parties all boycotted the ballot, claiming official fraud and pointing at a history of closing independent media and imprisoning opposition figures.
But despite the lack of suspense, the mood in the capital was buoyant, in marked contrast to the violence that marred the aftermath of the 2003 presidential elections.
Hundreds of the president's jubilant supporters streamed into the streets shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m. local time Wednesday and celebrated his victory late into the night. Caravans of cars flying Azeri flags and bearing portraits of the president clogged traffic near the boardwalk along the Caspian Sea.
More to follow:
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