Well, I guess this is where I find out the way my readers think, because I figure I'm going to set off a few people with today's comments.
Earlier this week, I predicted that because of the agreed preconditions, Kerry had already lost the first Debate. I was right.
Before I continue, I want to explain how the situation was set up. This was NOT a debate in school, or under some arcane set of rules. This was a Political debate, where Bush and Kerry were pursuing specific goals, and they were not always the same goal. President Bush wanted to defend the war in Iraq as part of the War on Terror, and to show his position superior to Kerry's on Foreign Policy and National Security. Senator Kerry wanted to attack Bush where he holds the biggest lead, to separate Iraq from the War on Terror, and to show consistency in his policies and positions. By my review of the collective results from good or very good polls, I showed President Bush with a 7 point lead nationally, going into the first Debate, and President Bush is gaining from earlier polls in every major demographic sector. Kerry and Bush were both keying on "Security Moms", the female voter (especially married) who now sees protecting her family as the all-important measure for her vote. These goals helps to explain the way each man answered questions and challenged his opponent.
Kerry is a former prosecutor, used to confrontations and attack by innuendo. Bush is a former businessman, used to cooperative discussions aimed at addressing issues. Both men spoke as they are, last night.
btw, Kerry broke the rules. He brought written notes in his jacket pocket, while Bush followed the rules about not bringing talking points. I don't know how that would be addressed, but that's why Kerry was able to stay on his points, and it speaks well for Bush, that just on memory, he got every name and nation correct.
Next, every point Kerry brought up, Bush addressed, while there were several points Bush brought up which Kerry did not answer, and at least three questions asking for "specific" proposals from Kerry, which Kerry sidestepped with generalities.
Considering that this debate was really about trying to reach the voters who are undecided or who can be swayed, I found the results better for Bush than the media will admit. Bear in mind, also, that the Old Media liked Kerry's nomination speech at the DNC, but the real effect wasn't what they expected.
I counted four lasting impacts from the debate. First, Bush was a bit tired and mumbly, while Kerry was crisp. But Kerry made several gaffes, leaving openings I don't think will play well. He actually suggested the United States should have bilateral talks with North Korea, locking out China, which is the kind of blunder to prove Kerry doesn't really understand international issues. Kerry also discussed Beslan only in terms of whether he liked Putin having that much power - Kerry never once mentioned that he was sorry for all the children deliberately murdered there, or showed the kind of compassion and horror people would expect from a leader. And finally, Kerry failed completely to show what he would do in Iraq, that would be both different and better than what Bush has done. he essentially fell back to his March position, unaware that the handover of sovereignty, the establishment of the Interim government, the scheduled elections in Iraq all changed the conditions there.
Like his pick of Edwards, I see a small bounce for Kerry, but one which will fade quickly, and quite possibly work against him later. Remember, Kerry needed a big victory here, and frankly, I don't see that he got it. Bush failed to nail Kerry where he had several chances, but Kerry made no effective points, and Bush made no critical errors. It's like Kerry needed a triple, the press wants to call it a Home Run, but in reality, he just picked up a walk.
The insta-polls from last night all say Kerry won, but that is just emotional reaction to style. The real question is whether anyone changed their vote, and a quick ABC News poll from last night said 'no', though undecideds moved to candidates. ABC News said that a poll of 1,000 respondents supported Bush over Kerry 50% to 46% before the debate, and 51% to 47% after the debate.
Gallup released internals, and the biggest story here, is that Bush's internal support stayed stronger on key Security issues than Kerry's after the debate. By definition, if that holds up, it would mean that Kerry failed to get the results he needs.
Kerry did what he wanted, but Bush won the debate where it matters.