Friday, October 08, 2004

The Second Presidential Debate: A Clear Bush Win

In contrast to last week's debate, Bush was the clear winner. He gave no ground to Kerry on rhetoric, and clearly outscored him on attacks. The Bush of the first debate -- halting, confused, exhausted -- was gone, replaced by the humorous, focused, and righteously indignant Bush. Kerry had some well-prepared comebacks and he did a good job of delivering them, but those comebacks were of the type that plays well to the anti-Bush crowd while falling flat with the undecided voters.

The questions were mostly good, although I find it hard to believe that the person who asked the loaded "Patriot Act" question is really an undecided voter. The moderator did a good job also, and didn't get in the way while keeping control. The last question, asking Bush what his three biggest mistakes were, was certainly not a fair one, but Bush handled it well.

The debate format favored Bush, I think. He's at his best in an informal situation as compared to giving a presentation. It was interesting to watch each candidate work the crowd at the conclusion. From what I could see Bush (and especially his wife Laura) were the crowd favorites.

Why do I score this a Bush win? Because Bush was successful at painting Kerry as a liberal who had the nerve to complain about a faulty intelligence organization when he voted to drastically cut funding for that organization. Because Bush was successful at pointing out the numerous contradictions that Kerry has offered during the campaign. Because Bush was successful at communicating the idea that unlike Kerry he'll choose what he thinks is right over what he thinks is popular. Kerry scored a few rhetorical points, but his main attacks against Bush just weren't believable to any but the anti-Bush crowd. Does any neutral person believe Bush lied, as opposed to believing Bush (and Kerry, and the rest of the world) were deceived by faulty intelligence?

It will be interesting to see the poll returns. I think that diehard Dems will insist that Kerry won, and of course diehard Republicans will insist that Bush won. I also think that the truly undecided will be reassured by Bush's performance and flock to him. Kerry was about the same as he was for the last debate (he is a good debator), but Bush was on a whole different level and definitely came across as the stronger, more forceful personality. Combined with Cheney's performance on Tuesday, tonight's performance by the President was bad news for the Kerry campaign.

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