SUM UP: Overall, a pretty good performance by both guys, neither of whom is a stellar orator. As I've said before, my judgment on these things isn't to be trusted -- I thought Carter beat Reagan -- but it looks to me like a pretty solid Bush win here for two reasons. First, the expectations were low, and he was drastically better than the previous debate, especially in the closing statement. Talk about beating the point spread. Second, he stayed focused and on-message, and looked firm instead of exasperated. As some talking head said, Bush came to play tonight. He wins the comeback prize, and the momentum shifts.
That's my take, but as I've said my judgment is suspect. We'll see what others think.
On the debate as a whole, well, it was pretty good and pretty substantive. A high point in the campaign, I'd say.
Hugh Hewitt: "No way to call this other than a big Bush win." Of course, he said that last week.
N.Z. Bear: "Bush connected with the audience with humor (self-deprecating and otherwise), while Kerry utterly failed to do the same. It was Bush's room: Kerry was just visiting. Combining that with solid answers which hammered Kerry on his weakest points made tonight a clear win for Bush on points, if not an utter knockout."
Bush is getting good reviews from the Hardball crowd.
Polipundit, which unlike Hugh Hewitt called the last debate a major defeat for Bush, thinks this was a big win.
Power Line: "I had underestimated Kerry. I've always thought of him as a rather dull-witted stiff. But that's wrong. . . Two, Bush was much better tonight, more animated and energetic. He had several good spontaneous moments, one or two of which were funny. Did he 'win'? Beats me. But he did fine; he certainly didn't lose any ground tonight."
A reader emails:
I think Bush did so much better this time around because of the audience.
The first debate had the audience mostly invisible, and I don't think Bush
is comfortable if he doesn't have people he can see and try to connect to.
My initial impression was that both candidates did a pretty good job. Bush was dramatically improved over his performance from the first debate.
I think Bush was the clear winner, although Kerry did okay. . . .
I thought Charlie Gibson, and the audience, both did great jobs.
In contrast to a few of my questioners, I thought the overwhelming majority of the questions were fair. Most of the Bush questions were tough on Bush; most of the Kerry questions were tough on Kerry.
I think Gibson did a good job, too.
TalkLeft: "John Kerry won, hands down. He had concrete answers. He was Presidential. He showed his knowledge and exposed Bush's mistakes."
Robert Prather: "Bush won. It was an unambiguous win. I wish he hadn’t waited until tonight to sound this articulate."
Hillary Clinton on CNN: "Senator Kerry hit it out of the park tonight." Says Bill thought so, too.
Roger Abramson from The Nashville Scene: "Bush wins, but only because he made up for last time."
Ann Althouse: "I think both men performed well in terms of style and getting their statements across. There is little basis for going on about who performed better tonight. People will have to pick between the two based on substance this time. . . . Ah, wait. One key style point. After it's all over, Bush plunges into the audience and interacts warmly and enthusiastically with the people, while Kerry goes over and hangs around with the moderator and then hugs his wife. Bush is posing for pictures with people. Where's Kerry now?"
Election Projection: "President Bush hit at least a triple tonight. He clobbered Senator Kerry on substance and even bested him on style. I thought the questions tonight were solid, fair, and impartial - way to go Charles Gibson!"
Jeff Jarvis -- who was liveblogging -- "Draw. Which is to say nobody wins, including us. More lively. Both were more in command. Come to think of it, if it's a draw, then it's a Bush victory, since this time, he was coming up from behind."
Alarming News: "We had two French reporters covering our party from Radio France, for a show called Interception. I talked to them for a little while, they're against the war in Iraq, pro-Kerry and they thought that Bush obviously won." French reporters are never wrong!
Ann Coulter on CNN: Bush beat a Democrat on Democratic issues. Paul Begala: Close, but Kerry won.
Pundit Guy, meanwhile, thinks both candidates lost. "I think tonight, we saw the death of the town hall meeting format."
Joe Trippi on Hardball: The online polls aren't scientific, but the fact that Kerry's winning them proves he's ahead. (Huh?) He thinks the town hall format was a big success. I'm inclined to agree with him about that latter point -- though I don't know how town-hallish this really was. But I think it was a good debate.
Joshua Zader: "There was a clear winner in tonight's debate — and it was Ronald Reagan." Heh. Yeah, he did get bipartisan props. . . .
Reader Shivan V. Mahendrarajah emails: "I live in NYC: limousine liberals hated Guiliani publicly, but voted for his reelection because they trusted him to keep them safe. I think the same phenomenon exists with GWB, and he reminded voters why they should vote for him. . . . Finally, some talking hairpiece on CNN called it a draw, so it must be a Bush win!"
Kerry was himself last night, which is to say he was a condescending jerk. Mickey Kaus points out the following: How could he tell looking around the room that none of the people there made more than $200k a year? Did he stroll around the parking lot and see nothing but Corvairs and Pintos? Did he do a quick scan and see no hair coifed by Christophe? Did he sneak a peak at the questioners’ cuticles and note the pitifully unmanicured state of their sorry digits?
He also says I "blew it" with my analysis of Kerry's abortion remark, below.
Newsweek's Evan Thomas and NBC's David Gregory conceded on Imus in the Morning this week that they thought George W. Bush won the debate last week, but changed their mind in the face of the media line. "I was quickly informed I was wrong and that Kerry had won," Thomas quipped Monday morning. Thomas said that while "Kerry did well," he "didn't think that Bush was as terrible as everybody else did." Gregory stated that he "initially" saw Bush as the winner, but then "there was kind of a debate in the press corps, those of us who were watching in the main filing center where we were watching the pool feeds, as opposed to watching some of the other networks that had the reaction shots and the split screens."
As I noted on Kudlow & Cramer yesterday, even Joe Lockhart called it a draw after the debate, but by Monday it had morphed into a crushing defeat for Bush. It's as if the press wants Kerry to win!