I had some hopes going into the debate, but I don’t think it went as well as all that. Bush didn’t pull any Ford-style boners, and he wasn’t a total rhetorical disaster, but he was shaky at the beginning, and clearly tired and irate. He repeated stump-speech lines where he should have been attacking on the merits, and was clearly dumbing it down for the national audience. The stuff about the war being tough work works well on the stump, when it’s clear that he’s talking about the troops and his people, but in debate it sounds like whining. Kerry was a fool on the merits, but then, he’s always a fool on the merits. He claims he has better plans, but he never gets into the details, except to say “more of the same, done better”. Bush managed to point out that we’re doing most of what Kerry claims would be a new start, but the partisan-minded will discount that without a strong rhetorical riposte, which Bush didn’t have. Bush’s problem in debates is that he isn’t a clever man, and debate requires a light deftness which just isn’t part of his character. Ductility makes for terrible policy, but it’s invaluable in debate, as we saw last night.
Slight advantage: Kerry. But only on points. The Kerry-leaning folks here in the office were giddy as I came in. This is going to energize his base, I'm sad to say.