The race turned tonight.
“As far as the debate goes, I don't see how anybody could look at this debate and not score this a very clear win on points for John Kerry."
-- Joe Scarborough
"I thought the President was repetitive and reactive."
-- Kate O'Beirne
"It was John Kerry's best performance ever."
-- Joe Scarborough
“The president was remarkably angry seeming"
"Bush appeared perturbed when Kerry leveled some of his charges, scowling at times and looking away in apparent disgust at others."
--Milbank and VandeHei
If Republicans had hoped Bush could put Kerry away with a strong performance on terrain that has been his strongest suit, they are likely to be disappointed, as the Democrat constantly challenged the president to answer for his policies…Bush appeared defensive at the start of the 90-minute debate, and at times the camera caught him scowling or frowning as Kerry relentlessly attacked his record on Iraq.
--Dan Balz, Washington Post
The Post’s Mike Allen noted that Kerry got Bush unnerved, something that Rove has worked hard to avoid for years.
There were no glaring mistakes by either candidate during the 90-minute debate at the University of Miami, although Bush often appeared agitated, scowling at times as Kerry leveled his charges. While both delivered their messages forcefully, Kerry sharply questioned the president's credibility and highlighted his own ability to serve as commander in chief.
It will take days to see how the millions of American viewers reacted to the debate, but instant polls by the major networks, subject to less rigorous methodology than the high-profile campaign polls, showed Kerry had significantly outperformed Bush. The Democrat was hoping a strong performance would reduce the narrow but consistent lead Bush has had in opinion polls nationally and in key electoral states.
--Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post
Democracy Corps' Flash Survey of over 1300 respondents, a group that went for Bush by five points in 2000, revealed that Kerry cut Bush's 4% lead in half tonight alone and gained noticeably on favorability. The respondents also indicated that Kerry with his performance tonight reduced significantly the notion that he was a flip-flopper, and also was seen more and more as someone who has a plan for Iraq, would handle foreign policy well, and could effectively fight the war on terror.
The NYT’s Alessandra Stanley calls it one for Kerry.
A USA Today focus group thought Kerry won overwhelmingly.
A Los Angeles Times focus group thought Kerry won, and laughed out loud at several Bush smirks or stammers.
The Financial Times reports that three major post-debate polls say Kerry won.
The Philly Inquirer’s Dick Polman also says that Kerry did well.
And Kos says that conservative bloggers agree that Bush tanked.
For my part, several observations:
1. This was the debate (foreign policy) that Bush was supposed to win. How will Bush do when Kerry savages him over his domestic failings in the upcoming debates? If Bush had this kind of performance on his signature issues, how bad will he look when he tries to defend Social Security privatization, the Medicare drug bill, his environmental record, Halliburton, his lies about job creation in selling his tax cuts, his lack of effort on health care...
2. Is it possible that Rove outsmarted himself once again by insisting that the foreign policy debate go first? You normally want to close with your strong suit, unless you are cocky and arrogant enough to go for the early kill and then fail. Bush failed to go for the kill tonight on his strong suit, and now months worth of TV commercials about Bush's advantages as a leader in the war on terror are in the toilet, but worse yet, Rove gets to look forward to Kerry handing Bush his ass in the upcoming debates on Kerry's strong suits.
3. Until tonight, Bush has never lost a debate. Well, all streaks are made to be broken.
4. Bush does not, and never will look good on a stage one-on-one against Kerry. It is one thing to smear and smirk your way against your opponent on TV commercials and in front of invitation-only crowds of Kool-Aid drinkers. It is another thing altogether to try the same attacks on someone ten feet away who can kneecap you immediately and calmly make you look like you belong on someone else's lap. The podium almost swallows Bush up everytime he leans forward to make his points. Kerry by contrast actually looks presidential behind it, not like someone trying to sell you a car or sermonize.
5. Just as importantly, after tonight the media will treat Kerry with more respect. They never did that for Gore.
What say you?