Friday, October 01, 2004

Thoughts on the Bush-Kerry Debate Round 1

In the past few weeks, I've been really unhappy with the performance of the John Kerry campaign. They are the 2004 version of Marcia Clark/Chris Darden. He came into a can't-lose situation and actually lost points. The DNC should've been a knockout punch. Instead, he wasted the time talking about his war record, and failed to either present a clear, coherent platform or shed the flip flopper label.

This morning, I feel much better. I may not be the most impartial observer, but is there any doubt that Kerry came out on top?

He conquered a major weakness, the tendency to be longwinded (though I suppose the 120/90 second time limit left him no choice). He didn't completely squash the flip-flop label, but he did address it, and I sense that he's waiting for Round 2 to really tackle it. Foreign policy is Bush's forte, and Kerry needed to get in a few solid punches - and he did.
Kerry's biggest victory was making it clear that he had a plan for victory/peace that was different from Bush's, and he managed to derive his plan from what he pointed out as Bush's failures in the buildup to the war in Iraq.

Bush on the other hand came off uninterested, almost annoyed to be there. He failed to address Kerry's most notable indictment, not putting enough resources to find Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora. How did he not have a resonse for that? He had to know it was coming. He refused to acknowledge that not only is Iraq a mess, but it's getting worse by the week (or so the numbers suggest). His repeated defense that "it's hard work" came off hollow, especially considering his failure to outline any plan beyond staying the course. Kerry came out prepared, he was aggressive, and put on a professional presentation. Save for a few clever comments, Bush looked ill-prepared and was on the defense for the most part - ironic that his main point was that the best defense is a good offense.

And what about the podium? That huge box only emphasized the size difference between the two candidates. The worst was the split-screen shot, which showed the top of Bush's podium several inches past Kerry's. It didn't help that Kerry stood straight while Bush was hunched over at certain points. Didn't they go through intense negotiations for this kind of stuff?

No knockout punch from either side, but Kerry landed a few big ones. And the USA Today poll immediately following the debate shows viewers got the same impression.

  • 53% of respondents thought Kerry did a better job, compared to 37% for Bush.

  • 46% had a more favorable opinion of Kerry after the debate, compared to 21% for Bush. 62% answered that their opinion of Bush has not changed much, compared to 41% for Kerry.

  • After the debate 43% thought Kerry would better handle the situation in Iraq. Bush's numbers remain unchanged at 54%

  • The biggest surprise though, is that 60% thought Kerry expressed himself more clearly, compared to 32% for Bush.

All in all, Kerry has to consider this a win, especially the last item above. Kerry's weakness was being able to speak to the voters, and he overcame it. Bush's numbers remained stable, but the candidates are fighting over undecided voters. Kerry won't be able to take votes from voters who already support Bush, and vice versa.

No, I'm still not completely thrilled with Kerry (I think Dean would have made a better opponent, and I'm not the only one). I still think he's part f what's wrong with the Democratic Party (I should, and I will write an entry about to my politics and social philosophies before long). But he came to Coral Gables needing to convince undecided voters that he had a plan and that he could speak to the constituents - he did exactly that. One down, two to go.


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