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Presidential Debates: Bush vs. Kerry

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Credit: Sharon Farmer

I've believed from the beginning that the debates would decide this election. So far, Kerry won the first debate with Bush, giving his campaign a much-needed boost. Edwards and Cheney seem to have fought to a draw, though I'm betting that Edwards did better with swing voters. Cheney at least reenergized Bush's base, so the race will probably remain a dead heat going into Friday's debate. (Updated 10/6/04 by G. Orlando)


ANDREW ON MARY: Andrew Sullivan weighs in on the Mary Cheney debate. Andrew defends Kerry's reference to Cheney's gay daughter in last night's debate.  

So far, the snap polls favor Kerry on this last debate. CNN has Kerry winning, 53%-39%. CBS also has Kerry winning, 39%-25% with 36% undecided. The ABC poll has it as a tie, but the sample is tilted to Republican voters. Reactions from pundits are posted on our debate page


A DRAW . . . AGAIN, BUT KERRY SCORES AGAIN WITH SWING VOTERS: Like the second debate, both men did a good job, particularly on style. On substance, again I think Kerry did a better job of speaking to the swing voters. Bush landed some blows as he tried to paint Kerry as an extremist. His best line was his reference to Kerry's vote against using force against Saddam in 1991. He put Kerry on the defensive through parts of the debate with attacks on his health and spending plans, but Kerry handled most of them well. Kerry's "Tony Soprano" line played well. Kerry was at his best on issues like the minimum wage and assault weapons, while Bush ducked both issues. Kerry also spoke eloquently about topics like religion and family, and he probably made himself more "likeable" to many voters (despite his Mary Cheney remark). He showed empathy, in contrast to some of his past performances. The Bush spinners seem happy, but I think the momentum will stay with Kerry.


SPLIT DECISION: The ABC News insta-poll has Kerry winning the debate by a slim margin, 44-41, with 13 percent calling it a tie. 


INITIAL REACTION - A DRAW: In the second debate between Kerry and Bush, my initial reaction is that they fought to a draw. Both candidates were very tough and made some effective arguments, though both of them had weak moments as well. Bush benefits by improving on his lame performance in the first debate, which should re-energize his base. He was full of energy and he remained on the attack throughout the debate. That said, he was at times a little hyper and out of control, and he added to his long list of "Bushisms." His reference to "Internets" was priceless, and his reference to the Dred Scott decision from the 19th century was hilarious. Good thing we don't have to worry about Bush appointing justices who support slavery. Kerry built upon last week's strong performance. I thought he scored repeatedly during the domestic portion of the debate, though he could have done better on the stem cell question. He was also very effective in pointing out statements Bush made in the debates four years ago that contradict his current positions. He looked presidential again, and like Edwards, I think he did a better job of speaking to the swing voters.


CBS POLL: Their poll of independent voters gives the edge to Edwards. Their sample also decided that Edwards was more likeable. Surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan thought Edwards crushed Cheney.

I thought both Cheney and Edwards landed some blows in tonight's debate. Overall, I think it was even, though many of the pundits on MSNBC seem to be saying that Cheney won the debate. Cheney certainly attacked Edwards, but Edwards was tough as well. His strongest points were Cheney's dealings with Iran when he was CEO of Halliburton and his reference to Cheney's old votes in Congress when he voted against Head Start, he voted against the Department of Education, he voted against meals on wheels for seniors and he voted against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela. Cheney also said during the debate that he never tried to link Saddam to 9/11, which is basically a lie (MSNBC showed the footage of his old statements on Meet the Press). Finally, his tone with Edwards was very condescending, including his remark that he had never met Edwards before tonight's debate, a point which Edwards is already contradicting. Apparently they sat next to each other at a dinner three years ago.


GAME ON: Kerry scored a clear win in tonight's debate. He was presidential and in command of the facts. Bush was inarticulate and ineffective. It certainly wasn't a knockout blow, but Kerry is back in this race.

On style, it was no contest. Howard Fineman had a great line tonight on MSNBC when he said that Bush had 30 minutes of material for a 90 minute debate. Bush repeated himself constantly and he looked terrible on the split screen when Kerry was speaking.

As for substance, both candidates certainly made some good points. Kerry, however, helped himself tremendously with his emphasis on homeland security and nuclear proliferation. He asserted common sense positions on these issues and the president did not have good responses. He showed that he can make us safe, and that alone may win him the election. (G. Orlando)


Latest Polls
Get the latest polls on the race between Kerry and Bush

Transcripts - First Debate-Miami, VP Debate-Cleveland, Second Debate-St. Louis


Howard Kurtz summarizes media reactions to the final debate. He also points out how the pundits on Fox all concluded that Bush won big, even though most pundits scored it a draw and the insta-polls favored Kerry.

William Saletan
argues that Kerry rebounded from the second debate and hit a grand slam in the final debate. Chris Suellentrop argues that Bush's gaffe regarding Osama bin Laden will hurt him.

Fred Barnes argues that Bush won the third debate.

In round three, Tom Shales says that Bush grins, spins but doesn't win. Tom Curry says neither candidate scored a knock-out blow. Dick Morris also calls it a draw, with the advantage to Kerry because of the emphasis on domestic issues.

Jonathan Alter
explains that Bush needs to try a slice of humble pie.

Andrew Sullivan
scores the debate a draw but with a slight edge to Kerry. 

William Saletan
points out the many missed opportunities for Kerry in the second debate. Dick Morris argues that Bush got himself back in the race with a strong performance.

Mort Kondracke
examines the extent to which the first debate and the VP debate have changed the race.

William Saletan
argues that, by focusing on what independent voters wanted to hear, John Edwards cleaned Dick Cheney's clock in the VP debate. Fred Kaplan thought there were many missed opportunities for Edwards.

Walter Shapiro
gives an overview of the contentious debate between Cheney and Edwards.

Fred Barnes
argues that Cheney won and set up Bush for the next debate. Dick Morris argues that Edwards looked more like Dan Quayle than John F. Kennedy. Paul Boas agrees.

Scot Lehigh
argues that the VP debate was a tie. David Corn agrees.

Tom Shales
argues that Cheney turned up the heat in the VP debate but Edwards held his own against the assault.

Mort Kondracke
argues that Kerry won the first debate and that he's still alive in this race.

David Broder explains how Bush failed in the first debate to deal with the main threat to his presidency - the insurgency in Iraq that contradicts his optimistic statements about Iraq.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. explains why Democrats have reason to smile after Kerry's
performance in the first debate.

The Boston Globe argues that Kerry turned things around in the first debate.

Debra Saunders argues Bush won the first debate. Charlie Cook agrees, though he acknowledges he's in the minority on this point.


Bush's cartoon fails to show up (WP)

Cheney met Edwards at least three times despite his statements during the debate (ABC)

War, aftermath dominate VP debate (MSNBC)

VP candidates play to the voters (WP)

Edwards/Cheney debate takes on new importance


STATING THE OBVIOUS: Joe Klein explains that we finally have a real race. Andrew Sullivan summarizes how Kerry won the first debate.


George W. Bush
John Kerry
Ralph Nader

Comments, questions and suggestions can be sent to Gerardo Orlando at editor@orlandoreport.com.

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