Friday :: Oct 1, 2004

"It's hard work."

by pessimist

A sampling of opinion on the first 2004 Presidential debate from around the world:

The First Debate

Before last night's debate, we worried that the long list of rules insisted on by both camps would create a stilted exchange of packaged sound bites. But this campaign was starved for real discussion and substance. Even a format controlled by handlers and spin doctors seemed like a breath of fresh air. The confidence with which Mr. Bush has kept hammering home those [talking] points has clearly had an effect in the polls, encouraging wavering voters to believe that the president is the one who can best lead the country out of the morass he created. But last night Mr. Bush sounded less convincing when he had to make his case in the face of Mr. Kerry's withering criticism.

America's Lost Respect

It's unclear whether Mr. Bush misspoke, or whether he really is that clueless. But his claim was in keeping with his re-election strategy, demonstrated once again in last night's debate: a president who has done immense damage to America's position in the world hopes to brazen it out by claiming that failure is success.

Press Plays It (Mainly) Straight in First Reports on Bush-Kerry Debate

[An] AP piece, by Terence Hunt, observed that "Bush appeared perturbed when Kerry leveled some of his charges, scowling at times and looking away in apparent disgust at others. Kerry often took notes when the president spoke." Several other reporters also commented that no matter how you scored the debate on points, the cutaways to a candidate while the other spoke seemed to damage Bush the most, often finding him in a "grimace" or worse. His camp had tried to prevent TV outlets from doing this, to no avail.

In this vein, in her final real-time analysis at The New York Times site as the debate ended, reporter Katharine Q. Seelye wrote: "Bush was on the defensive at several turns. In the cutaways it was clear that Kerry had got under his skin. Kerry looked cool and collected and met his threshold test of being able to stand on the same stage as the commander-in-chief and not look diminished."

The biggest surprise of the early cable news spin was conservative MSNBC chat host Joe Scarborough saying that Kerry had clearly "won on points."

The thinking-ahead prize, however, goes to the Democratic National Committee, which ran a banner ad on the Washington Post's home page all night with the large words, "Debate Shows Kerry Strength, Bush Fails to Deliver Plan for Iraq."

Analysis: No knockout blow

The president is surrounded by people who are always telling him that he is the leader of the free world. It must have come as a bit of a shock. After four years of being president, it is probably true that Mr Bush is not used to facing the kind of close-up criticism that Mr Kerry levelled at him.

Mr Kerry was able to strike some serious blows against the president in his handling of the war in Iraq. President Bush's supporters are likely to say that they would have liked to have seen him make a more convincing defence of his policies.

First blood to Kerry in TV debate

John Kerry regained the initiative in the US presidential race last night with a forceful performance in his first debate with George Bush, occasionally leaving the president scowling and at a loss for words. Mr Bush seemed to lose track of his point between sentences and seemed to struggle to fill his allotted time for each response. On several occasions, Mr Bush could be seen sour-faced and nervous in reaction to some of Mr Kerry's remarks. After last night's debate, senior Democrats made it clear that they would make maximum use of the pictures of a disgruntled President Bush.

Several conservative commentators awarded the encounter to Senator Kerry on points. Morton Kondracke, an outspoken hawk on Fox News, said he did not think the president "had dominated" and argued "Kerry looked like a commander-in-chief".

Iraq dominates Bush-Kerry TV tussle

Mr Kerry was less wooden than Democrats feared and was able to deliver punchy responses without getting bogged down in detail, as he is known to sometimes do. Mr Bush appeared perturbed when Kerry levelled some of his charges, scowling at times and looking away in apparent disgust at others. Mr Kerry often took notes or stood with an impassive stare when the president spoke. All neutral observers agreed that neither man managed to land a knock-out punch.

Kerry scores badly needed points in debate

Democrat John Kerry stood his ground with President George W. Bush in their first televised debate, delivering a strong performance that could put him back into the election race after weeks on the ropes. Several analysts said he now had a chance of recharging the somewhat dispirited Democratic ranks and winning back anti-Bush voters who had deserted him amid doubts about his leadership.

Charles Jones, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, called it a virtual draw that could work in Kerry's favor. "It seems to me has demonstrated in this area that he is capable and that may stop the hemorrhaging."

Stephen Hess, a former Republican speechwriter now with the Brookings Institution, thought the debate would help firm up some of Kerry's support that had become wobbly. "There may be some gain on the part of people who were not as familiar or aware particularly of Kerry who now get a sense of his seriousness and articulateness," Hess said.

Jonathan Siegel, a law professor at George Washington University who has done volunteer work with the Kerry campaign, thought that Kerry had given a boost to the Democratic rank and file. "I think a lot of people who have been a little exasperated with his campaign will have some renewed vigor and say, 'Listen he's finally up there fighting.' During August you sort of got the sense he was sitting there and taking it."

Siegel had no illusions that the debate itself would erase Bush's lead and propel Kerry to the front. But he added, "I think this would prevent people from closing the deal with Bush. "This leaves the matter open. It shows we are still in a presidential race and there is a lot of time before election day," he said.

Presidential debate gives slight edge to Kerry

A group of citizens in New Hampshire, including Democrats, Republicans and one undecided voter, gave a slight edge to Democrat John Kerry in Thursday's first presidential debate. After the debate, all three Kerry supporters said they were much more encouraged and heartened by the Massachusetts senator's performance. The Bush supporters remained solidly committed to the president.

Adam Schibley, a politics student at the college and the group's sole undecided voter, said he was now leaning strongly toward Kerry. "Kerry answered a few questions I had that were open-ended before the debate started," he said. "Bush struggled more to verbalize his beliefs while Kerry found it easy to put into words exactly what he felt," Schibley said.

Bush and Kerry clash over Iraq

Democratic challenger John Kerry won the first televised presidential debate against Republican President George Bush late on Thursday, according to instant polls. A Gallup poll for CNN gave Kerry a 46% to 37% win over the president. It added that 46% of those asked now have a better opinion of Kerry against 21% for Bush. The CBS network, which asked 200 voters, said 44% gave victory to Kerry against 26% who thought the president had the upper hand. Thirty percent said neither candidate won. An ABC poll of 531 people gave 45% for Kerry, 36% for Bush and 17% for a draw. But the survey said Bush still had the support of 51% of voters for the November 2 election against 47% for Kerry.

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