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October 01, 2004

My Gut Feelings on the Debate

By Andrew Dobbs

Taking a break from my all-nighter study session for Latin American Colonial Civilization, I thought I'd share my thoughts on the debate and some input I got from others.

First off, Kerry kicked ass in the expectations game. I seriously cannot think of one person I know who didn't think that Kerry would just totally screw the pooch on this one. The media seemed to think that Kerry would get caught up in his patrician, standoffish, nuanced indicisiveness on this one. For the first time the SCLM pointed out that Bush has never lost a debate (before tonight) and so his expectations were rather high. As a result, Kerry had to simply appear presidential, appear as someone voters could relate to to win and Bush had to offer up the performance of a lifetime. Kerry succeeded and Bush didn't.

Secondly, I think that this is likely to turn the tide for Kerry in a big way. Any polls you see on the issues show that a solid majority of Americans dislike Bush as President. They think that the country is going in the wrong direction, that Bush screwed up the economy, that the War wasn't worth it blah blah blah. But a plurality, and sometimes a majority, supported his reelection- largely because (IMHO) they thought Kerry was a spineless New England ultraliberal and as a result, they thought he would be worse than Bush. Kerry tonight demonstrated that (a) he is tough as nails, (b) he isn't some hard left anti-military, anti-America radical (c) he can relate to people in an understandable, if not terribly warm, way. All of this, I suspect, will encourage the people who didn't like Bush but liked Kerry less to reevaluate JFK and to eventually switch sides.

Thirdly, I think that Kerry ought to stop worrying about the "aloof" factor so much. The types of people who are going to throw their civic duty to the wind and vote for a President based on how nice he seems are going to vote for Bush, no matter what. Love him or hate him, Bush seems like a far more personible and fun guy than Kerry- Kerry can't win that vote. Kerry ought to be lively enough and personible enough to keep people from falling asleep and to keep people's spirits up, but he should focus on credibility and toughness more- fights he can win.

Fourthly, that bicycle fall must have given Bush amnesia. He won the race in 2000 in large part because he managed to beat Gore in the first debate. Gore lost that debate not by not making sense or looking good, but by looking like an insufferable prick. Bush sighed and rolled his eyes and in general looked like he was about to lunge at Kerry and try and claw his eyes out. I think that this will be a big item over the next few days.

Fifthly, I've been talking to Republican friends and reading GOP reaction to this debate. My friend Matt felt that Kerry still seemed very unapproachable, but had improved. He made the very prescient comment that it appears that someone worked with Kerry on his gestures and use of hands, as he didn't look like a robot. He also feels that Kerry might have lost some support on the left due to his strong stances against Iran and North Korea, but I argue that he made up those votes in the middle. The guys over at the National Review Online are mostly arguing that because Kerry didn't obliterate Bush somehow, Bush won. See argument number one above, guys. Fox News, as Byron noted, was pretty harsh as well.

Finally, check out these flash poll numbers. ABC News found that 45% say Kerry won, 36% say Bush won and 17% say that it was a tie. Most telling- 89% of Kerry supporters felt he won, only 70% of Bush supporters felt their man did the job. Finally, Independents came down on Kerry's side 48% to 28% (and 24% said tie). No minds were changed, but it usually takes about a week or so for any event (Reagan's death, the Swift Boat ads, etc.) to move the polls. CBS News polled only undecided voters, and Kerry kicked ass. 43% said Kerry, 28% said Bush and 29% said it was a tie. A majority said that the debate improved their opinion of Kerry, 14% said that it diminished their opinion and a third said it didn't affect them at all. Bush, on the other hand, saw 22% improve their opinions, but the same number said it caused them to like him less. The numbers are dramatic across the board, read the article for the full impact.

Essentially, Kerry exceeded his expectations, he did everything he needed to do (except perhaps deliver a knockout punch), the spin is on his side, the voters are on his side finally and even the GOP is on the defensive. If Kerry can parlay this into some good momentum, it could carry him through November 2 and is likely to go down as among the most important events in the history of US political campaigns.

JFK, all the way!

Posted by Andrew Dobbs at October 1, 2004 03:05 AM | TrackBack


I think Kerry did an excellent job that will no doubt give him a soft bounce. However, as soon as God is mentioned in the upcoming debates.. hang it up. If and only if, progressive young people, women and minorities come out and vote in record numbers, Bush will win.

Posted by: AustinGirl172 at October 1, 2004 08:32 AM

Yeah, I don't know why we'd want to mention God. I mean, he's only mentioned in every single founding document of our country and in fact the concepts of Natural Rights and Individual Liberty really don't make sense without a belief in God.

If you vote against someone or don't vote for someone because they invoke divine providence, then you are an idiot.

Frankly, I want my President to have a deep and abiding faith in God, whether it is in a formally religious way (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) or in a more general sense of spirituality. Plus, for every hippie anti-God vote he loses he makes up 2 normal people who live in the world of reality. So go for the God, Kerry!

Posted by: Andrew D at October 1, 2004 09:50 AM

Bush wins when it comes to the God-factor. That's my point.

Posted by: AustinGirl172 at October 1, 2004 11:06 AM

Kerry is never going to steal Religious Right votes from Bush. But there's no reason to expect that he's going to lose huge swaths of the moderate demographics because he doesn't wear his faith on his sleeve.

Posted by: Ai Zhanke at October 1, 2004 11:59 AM

Two Questions: 1. Did you like what the talking heads said after the debate? 2. Did you like what the talking heads said in 2000? Yes Kerry won. Yes Gore won. The Texas Rangers won yesterday too.

Say what you will about Gallup, but with the same people polled before, during, and after. Gallup polled our President up 54 - 43; then polled Kerry winning the debate 57 - 37; and finally polled the race at 54 - 40!

The needle did not move folks, at least for our President. Its time for you to work harder. HARDER!

Byron or Andrew, Why did you delete my first comment? Truth hurts?

Posted by: peter at October 1, 2004 12:25 PM

How bout that comment C-Span caught between Lockhart and McCurry...Its a Draw. No spin. Its a draw.

Posted by: peter at October 1, 2004 12:28 PM

I think Kerry clearly won on style, Bush on substance. But style is more important here, both for the media and for whatever poor lost swing voters still haven't made up their minds. On the whole, a big plus for Kerry. But he still has a long way to go. If the next two debates go similarly, I think he would still narrowly lose the election, all else being equal.

And I wouldn't be as confident about the next two debates. The expectations needle is now strongly toward Kerry, and domestic issues may prove more troublesome for Kerry than the Iraq mess.

Agree with Austingirl on religion, loser topic for Kerry, as is gun control, and even abortion (Bush can push parental consent and partial birth). Kerry will be talking about social security, the deficit, and raising taxes on the "rich".

Posted by: TM at October 1, 2004 04:34 PM

AZ -

I am worried not enough people will vote and the RR will turn out in DROVES! aye, aye, aye!

Posted by: AustinGirl172 at October 1, 2004 04:34 PM

I wonder how people would feel if they knew that Bush doesn't attend church.

Posted by: Jason Young at October 1, 2004 07:45 PM
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