For the first time, I score Bush ahead on both substance and style. I don’t think he won this debate by as wide a margin as Kerry won the first one, but I think Bush clearly was the winner.
Bush was very week in the first debate, but got stronger with each one. Kerry was strong in the first debate and got weaker with each one.
Kerry didn’t connect tonight. He was well prepared, rattling off facts with ease, but I don’t think it helped him sell his points. He was dull and hard to listen to. Bush was more upbeat. He used his facts to support his points rather than to make them.
I was very impressed with the way Bush answered the Social Security question, explaining what is wrong with it and why not taking action is the more expensive solution. He used his answer to educate on the issue, and did it about as well as one can in two minutes. He actually reminded me of Ronald Reagan for a couple of minutes.
Bush was also strong on education, same sex marriage, and securing the borders. I have large problems with his approaches on some of these issues, but he made his case very well.
Unfortunately, he didn’t do the same on the questions about minimum wage, gun control, and affirmative action. I thought he dodged all three of these issues. I understand that he did it for political reasons—to appeal to swing voters—but I’d rather have seen him take a principled position and educate on it the way he did on Social Security. He clearly didn’t remind me of Reagan in these answers.
Kerry… I’m thinking and thinking and nothing stands out. I paid attention to what he said, but the only thing I can remember is that he finally got the $120 billion figure right on Iraq. Bush did well early on in saying that a plan isn’t a litany of complaints. After he said that, it was hard to listen to Kerry without being reminded of it.
I always try to step back and ask how someone just coming to the campaign would view the debate. My guess is that they’d like Bush. I don’t think this will have much immediate impact on the polls, but as I said after the previous debate, Bush wins on the subtle believability index. He’s just more convincing and I think lingering doubts about Kerry’s sincerity will eventually tip the scales toward the President.
Okay, I’m off to see what everyone else thought.
Update: I just remembered one other thing about Kerry, though I’m not sure I heard him right. Did he actually say that if Bush had given more NCLB money to Arizona, their property taxes would be lower? Doesn’t he know that NCLB moneys don’t replace local education funds? They are provided to pay for the measures required by the NCLB act. These programs have actually been overfunded; there is money left in the bank because the districts haven’t been able to spend it fast enough. Anyway, I’ll have to check the transcript on this to see if I heard correctly.
Update 2: I forgot to mention how good Bush was on health care. Explaining that having third parties pay for health care interferes with the natural economic dynamics is highly substantive for a debate. Again, this is the type of thing Reagan did with ease. It’s good to see Bush doing some of it, and doing it effectively. I just wish he’d do it more often and on more issues.
Update 3: Regarding the first update, I checked the transcript. I did hear Kerry correctly. More here.