Friday, October 01, 2004
I was very nervous all day yesterday, and even more nervous once the debate had started. Bush was hammering the flip-flop attack, and Kerry wasn't responding. Then everything changed. Kerry relaxed, and he was forceful and confident, even commanding. Bush's performance if anything deteriorated, when it became clear he had only a few scripted responses which he repeated verbatim over and over. He also seemed to forget what he was saying. Kerry had few verbal miscues, and was consistently on the offensive. Bush's repetition gave Kerry another chance to rebutt the waffling charge, which he did fairly well.
Overall, I think Kerry's performance was a little better than I expected, but not spectacular. He made some strong points, but he missed what I thought were some golden rhetorical opportunities ("I have seen the war on television" being the most memorable). Kerry had the advantage going in because expectations for him were so low and as the challenger he only needed to appear competent. Kerry won the debate in large part because Bush lost it. He appeared bored, irritated, and unfocused. Kerry seemd much more Presidential. And I won't even get into the shellacking Bush took on debating points. Regrettably that is not how these things are decided.
I was in a room full of Democrats last night, who hooted every time Bush spoke. But I wasn't interested in their perceptions- I was instead trying to look at the debate like a swing voter. Needless to say, it very hard to set aside my deeply held opinions about Bush. Clearly he stumbled, but what would they think in Peoria? I guessed that Bush's performance was weak enough to raise doubts in the heads of independents, and the overnight polling seems to indicate that this impression was correct.
I have been predicting all along that Kerry would perform well in the debate, and his poll standing would improve as a result. My chief concern was about the spin, but so far the spin is that Kerry won. So I think Kerry is now well-positioned for victory.
And just think, this debate was on foreign policy, Bush's supposed strong point. Can imagine what is going to happen when the topic is domestic policy? Ugly.