Republicans who were looking for President Bush, who was climbing in the polls over the past month, to score a knockout punch in his first debate with John Kerry on the central issue of Iraq and homeland security, have to be disappointed.
Kerry is still standing, and if the overnight snap polls mean anything, the senator is back in the race. He's still not a favorite to win, but if he continues to build on his momentum in the next two debates, and October is a good month for him, he could put himself in a position to win by Election Day.
And that has to make Democrats happy. In the past few weeks, many were giving up on their candidate. Now they're rallying behind him again -- hopeful he'll continue to "close strong."
This isn't to say Kerry came out ahead in the debate -- that's for each viewer to decide -- but he did re-energize his base and, in a nation that's still sharply divided between Republican "red" states and Democratic "blue" states, solidifying his base could tip some of those blue states -- Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania -- that were leaning toward Bush back into the Kerry camp.
What Kerry accomplished Thursday was to close the stature, or gravitas, gap. He was articulate and concise without being arrogant or unfriendly. In short, he was presidential -- perhaps more presidential than the president, who seemed tired and irritated as the evening wore on.
No matter how many "flip-flops" Kerry did in the past -- and credit Bush with doing a good job pointing them out -- the senator stuck resolutely to the message he settled on about 10 days ago: that he would have disarmed Saddam Hussein "the right way, not the wrong way"; and he would not have made the "colossal error" of invading Iraq and getting involved in a guerrilla war that "diverted" attention from the main war on terror in Afghanistan.
Kerry promised, if elected, to do a better job of protecting Americans, killing terrorists, democratizing Iraq, recruiting more allies and bringing U.S. troops home quicker than Bush.
Of course, if he can convince the American people of all that, he'll win the election. But as voters reflect more on what Kerry said, they may conclude he's just another blowhard politician making promises he can't keep.
On substance, Bush may have even bested Kerry.
The president, for instance, pointed out that Kerry will have a hard time recruiting more allies to help in Iraq when he describes the war there as in the "wrong place at the wrong time." Who's going to volunteer their troops to fight in a "wrong war?"
And how can Kerry recruit a broader global alliance when he's insulted the alliance we have as "the coalition of the bribed, the coerced and ... the extorted"? Also, the senator's heralded "four-point plan" to win the war and guarantee the peace has nothing new in it that Bush isn't already doing.
Bush's problem is that he doesn't verbalize as well as Kerry -- who, after years in the Senate, has honed his debate skills to a sharp edge. Stylistically, Kerry came across as more confident, sharp and lucid in his views than the president. That's why he's back in the race.
-- Augusta Chronicle
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