Friday, October 01, 2004

Thoughts on the debate

For those who did not sit through the debate last night and wish to inform yourselves, here is the transcript, along with video. In my posting last night I tried to jot down what I thought were any key lines from the candidates, but I didn't analyze the debate too closely. I really wanted to sleep on it and have fresher comments this morning.

The current trend of opinion seems to be that Kerry came out on top by a small margin. After reflection, my own opinion is that this debate was a tactical draw (according to Drudge, Joe Lockhart agrees with this), but a strategic Kerry defeat. Neither side committed any significant gaffes or scored any massive take-down blows against their opponent. Kerry was smoother in his presentation than Bush, although I felt that his statements were often rushed and sounded like he was reading a checklist. Bush had a number of rather pregnant pauses when responding to questions. I've had the same kinds of pauses myself, almost always when my mind was not focused. I think that Bush was tired, in part because he spent part of the day visiting hurricane victims in Florida, and in part because he is normally in bed by 9 PM.

As I expected, Kerry spent the bulk of his time on the attack, while Bush concentrated on defense. I was surprised that Bush did not counterattack more often than he did. Kerry offered his flank to Bush several times, but the president failed to follow up. I was disappointed in this, as Bush could have taken these opportunities to try and score a knockout punch, but opted to either ignore the openings or settle for rehashing his talking points.

Unfortunately for Kerry, while he was consistently on the attack, none of his attacks really hurt Bush. I thought Bush had a number of very good counters to Kerry's charges which largely negated them. As I wrote in my pre-debate analysis, Kerry really needed to score big in order for this debate to help him in the election. It didn't happen. Kerry may have eked out a small victory on style points, but I think that substantively, he did not accomplish what he needed to do.

What effect will this debate have on the campaign? I think that John McIntyre at RealClearPolitics hit the nail on the head when he said that Kerry has to get the polling gap between him and the president down to 3% by the first debate, otherwise the current gap of 5%-8% will harden. Though Bush did not put the nail in Kerry's coffin himself last night, Kerry's failure to land any solid blows on Bush may have done it for him.