Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain made bullish victory claims Saturday as the dust settled from a feisty first presidential debate clash, in the shadow of the grave Wall Street crisis.
Both camps rolled out fast-moving political spin operations in the always important contest to cement conventional wisdom about who won and lost Friday night's encounter at the University of Mississippi.
While the spin doctors battled, many commentators coalesced behind the view that neither McCain 72, nor Obama, 47, landed a decisive blow or committed a major gaffe, a verdict that benefits Obama given his slim lead in the polls.
The Obama camp said their man met the threshold of voters looking for a commander in chief and said he matched his rival on foreign policy -- the Arizona senator's area of greatest expertise.
McCain's campaign however claimed to have drawn blood from their man's repeated insistence that Obama, 47, was naive and inexperienced, and simply did not appreciate the grave threats to US security.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said on a conference call with reporters that the debate was "another piece of a puzzle in winning the election on November 4."
Obama released a new political advertisement hammering McCain as out of touch with the economic woes of everyday Americans, as US lawmakers made fresh efforts to agree a 700-billion-dollar Wall Street bailout plan.
"Number of minutes in debate? 90. Number of times John McCain mentioned the middle class? Zero. John McCain doesn't get it. Barack Obama does," the ad's narrator said.
McCain's team however countered that the Democrat came across as aloof and inexperienced, while the Republican empathised with his audience.
"I think he connected on a very personal level with the American people, something that Obama has had a very difficult time doing," McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said on MSNBC.
McCain was back in Washington on Saturday, after flying home straight from the debate to join intense negotiations on the Wall Street bailout, as members of Congress try to seal a deal before the financial markets open on Monday.
His rival was due to campaign in North Carolina and Virginia, with his running mate Joseph Biden, who will feature in the next big event of the campaign, a vice presidential debate with Republican Sarah Palin on Sunday.
Obama, vying to make history as the first African-American US president, branded McCain as an inheritor of President George W. Bush's unpopular legacy of "failed" economic and foreign policies.
McCain presented himself as a reformer and posed as a superior potential commander-in-chief, repeatedly saying Obama did not "understand" foreign policy threats or was "naive" in his outlook to the world.
"I don't think I need any on-the-job training. I'm ready to go at it right now," McCain said.
An instant telephone poll by CNN and Opinion Research Corp. scored a decisive win for Obama among 524 debate watchers. Asked who did the better job, 51 percent said Obama and 38 percent said McCain.
The Democrat had a yawning lead of 58-37 percent on handling the economy, and a narrower edge of 52-47 percent on the Iraq war, the pollsters said.
Another snap poll by CBS News and Knowledge Networks of about 500 uncommitted voters had 39 percent saying Obama was the winner against 24 percent for McCain. A total of 37 percent said it was a draw.
The Wall Street Journal said in an editorial that the encounter largely followed the script and offered no surprises.
"Neither candidate broke from talking points, neither one made a gaffe, and both men won on the grounds where they are most comfortable."
Obama said in the debate the financial crisis was "the final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain."
McCain said Obama has "the most liberal voting record in the Senate. It's hard to reach across the aisle from that far left," he said.
The candidates also fueded over policy on Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Russia, with McCain branding Obama naive and the Illinois senator portraying his rival as dangerously hawkish.
The Republican had only agreed to take part about 10 hours before the debate, after calling for it to be delayed over the finance crisis, a move Democrats branded as a stunt by a desperate campaign.
Obama and McCain hold the second debate in two weeks.