The debates are over, and if you believe the insta-polls – your choice – they pretty clearly were a positive for John Kerry and a negative for George Bush.
From Dan Froomkin's roundup at The Washington Post:
A CBS News poll of uncommitted voters who watched the debate named Kerry the winner 39-25 percent. But 36 percent of those polled called it a tie.
A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of registered voters who watched the debate found Kerry judged the winner 52-39. That was nearly as clear a victory as he scored after the first debate.
"By double-digit margins, those surveyed gave Kerry higher marks than Bush for expressing himself clearly, understanding issues and caring about the needs of people like them. Kerry was more believable, they said. On only one of seven characteristics did Bush come out ahead: likeability."
An ABC News poll of registered voters who watched the debate found Kerry winning by a tiny 42-41 margin -- but as anchor Peter Jennings acknowledged, the survey reached more Republicans than Democrats. Among independents in that poll, Kerry won 52-43.
Take 'em for what they're worth, which is one quick snapshot of an event that probably won’t stick in many minds for very long. But for the moment, they've served a purpose for Kerry, helping him recapture some of the momentum his campaign lost after the GOP convention.
A better question may be whether they were helpful to voters. I doubt they changed the mind of anyone who was already committed to either Bush or Kerry, but they most likely did move undecided voters toward one camp or the other. Current polls indicate Kerry got most of this benefit. But there are still 18 campaign days left before Nov. 2 and much can happen.
The returns on who won on which points are, you might say, mixed.
Tom Shales, Washington Post columnist and former TV critic, thinks,
An essentially dignified and thoughtful performance by Sen. John Kerry, contrasted with an oddly giggly turn by President Bush, combined to give the last debate of the presidential campaign to the challenger last night, but very narrowly.
But he was a little testy about some of the details:
Bush must have said 98 times during the debate -- or so it seemed -- that Kerry had voted 98 times to raise taxes. Kerry didn't go long before saying "I have a plan," in this case a plan for health care during the upcoming flu season. He also mentioned at every opportunity -- or else created an opportunity to mention -- that Bush's tax cuts allegedly benefit only the richest Americans.
Good Lord, if I hear that one more time I will shriek.
Seattle Times Backyard Bloggers Ian Stewart and Garrett Ferencz faced off again on the debate, and both found it helpful. Here's a snip from Ian's summary …
We got what we were hoping for tonight...more great stuff from both candidates. In fact, we got far more than we expected from these debates.
In the run-up to Bush v. Kerry 1, we were all ratcheting down expectations.
Instead, we got debates reminiscent of a long-gone era. Real differences on positions, opinions, and approaches to the issues we want to know about. Voters looking for information got it, in spades.
And one from Ferencz:
We once again are traveling down the road of 2000, and for this blogger the biggest difference between then and now is that we have been given the information we need to vote. The candidates told us where they stand.
Now it is our turn to decide.
Check the Backyarders out here.
Jeff Jarvis also blogged the debate last night, and was less impressed. He had some acerbic reactions to both men:
The first question is a right one: Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe as the one we have known. (Read: Or will we try to convince ourselves that terrorism is a 'nuisance'?)
Rather than giving an answer to how he will accomplish that, Kerry starts by attacking Bush on Iraq. Same Iraq line. Same cargo line. Same bin Laden line. Same, same, same.
Yes, Kerry was: repetitive, repetitive, repetitive.
Later, Bush brandishes the "L" word:
"There's a mainstream in American politics and you sit on the far-left bank," says Bush. That dog don't hunt for me, of course. Treating "liberal" as an insult is ridiculous; it's not something a president of the center does.
It sounds like Jarvis is going to have a hard time voting for either of these guys:
Nick Gillespie says ... that both these guys are losing.
No, we're losing.
That's the bottom line of this debate so far: Damn, it's a bad choice.
I expected Kerry to win this debate hands-down, given my views on domestic issues. I hoped it would shift the needle. But I still focused on the bad choice we have.
You want a score? Zero-zero in extra innings.
The only real conclusion from this debate is that we should have more debates -- for they are the only opportunities we have had to dwell on issues rather than mud and they have had big impact on the election -- and they should all be run by the citizens, not the journalists.
Three weeks now. Just three weeks.
Less, actually. And there will be no more debates. But lots of mud, no doubt.