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While tonight’s debate could change everything, here are winners and losers in the wake of this week’s financial-political panic:

Winner (for now): John McCain. Once again he stopped his precipitous slide in the polls. He put himself in the position to be the hero on the bailout, if it passes. Or to be the worst pandering politician in the history of the planet, if his ploy backfires.

Winner (for now): Barack Obama. George Bush did him a big favor by inviting him to sit at the table in the White House. Suddenly Obama looks as much like a President as Bush or McCain. Where McCain has seemed jumpy and panicky, Obama has been cool and collected. But too cool?

Winner and Loser: Bill Clinton. Gets pilloried for lavishly praising McCain and Palin and grudgingly praising Obama in interviews. But demonstrates the skill that both McCain and Obama lack: explaining the crisis and the bailout in terms people can understand.

Winner: Jim Cramer of CNBC. “Mad Money” can be crazy, but he can make crazy things like the bailout clear. His explanation: It’s not just for Wall Street. It’s pumping money into the economy so consumers can keep their houses, buy a car and take out a college loan. Are you listening, Barack?

Big Losers: Sarah Palin and, thus, McCain. Every time she answers questions, the McCain campaign is like a polar bear standing on the edge of a glacier that’s melting because of global warming.

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