Everything Gonna Be Alright This Mornin'
My hope going into last night's debate was that Kerry, just by dint of standing on the same stage as the president and being able to respond to the smears, slurs and distortions in real time, would reassure Dem-leaning independents and others who dislike and disagree with Bush but had little confidence in Kerry. I think he did that. This Democracy Corps analysis suggests that Kerry made substantial gains with independents in particular, on both foreign-policy issues and general measures of personality and even likeability.
It's just a wild guess, but IMO there's even a possibility that he brought some states where the economy sucks but cultural/foreign policy factors favored
Bush--like both Carolinas--back into play. Ditto the more hawkish states of the west and southwest, like Arizona and Colorado.
The Republicans badly wanted the first debate to be on foreign policy and "turr." I think they believed a good performance by Bush would shut the door, and that nobody would watch the subsequent debates. But this actually meant something of a lower bar for Kerry: now that he clearly got above a certain hurdle on the issues that have been Bush's greatest strength, he gets to have another meaningful contest on the more favorable ground of domestic policy.
This is a really, really big deal. I can see how one could support things
Bush has done in foreign policy--not how he's done it, but almost everything he's done is in some way justifiable--but there is utterly nothing in any area of
domestic policy where he's likely to find majority support. From deficits to
jobs to wages to environmental issues, his record in office is the definition of a "target-rich environment." He's been a complete disaster, and he will have to be much better than he was last night just to hold serve.
Think of it this way: is there any chance at all Bush would be within ten points without the war and terror stuff? I think not. By virtue of the agreement between the candidates, the third debate will basically exclude those issues.
The second "town hall" debate, next Friday night, is the one Bush wanted to skip altogether. The guy isn't exactly adept at thinking on his feet and responding to unanticipated questions. It now might be his best chance.
Kerry is in a much better position this morning than he was 24 hours ago. I would guess the race is tied again, and among the remaining undecideds the challenger's stock has to be up--simply by virtue of "looking presidential" up there.
I did have one major gripe with the debate, concerning what wasn't talked about. Granted it's only 90 minutes, and I wouldn't have wanted Jim Lehrer's job in both getting to all the key issues and allowing both men to sufficiently explain themselves... but how he could leave out WMD and pre-war intelligence, Abu
Ghraib/Guantanamo, and the Arab-Israeli conflict is really amazing to me.