Saturday, October 2 2004
Here are a cross-section of some emails we have received about the debate.

I think the MSM and even the right wing blogosphere watched a different debate last night. My wife and I watched the debate at Nixon's bar and restaurant in Phoenix. It was a standing room only crowd of decidedly mixed political affiliation. There were people sporting both Bush and Kerry paraphernalia. There was no event being sponsored, but it was clear almost everyone had come to watch the debate. In that room last night Kerry not only didn't help himself - he lost. When Kerry tried to talk tough - "I will kill the terrorists" - truly spontaneous laughter broke out because it was so phony. As the night wore on, many eyes rolled as Kerry told his whoppers and spouted empty platitudes. His, "I have a better plan for homeland security" was greeted with, okay - what is it? But that question was never answered. And by the end of the night no one even listened to him talk, but they focused on the screen when the President spoke. This morning at the gym, some of my "independent" and "moderate" friends and acquaintances wondered aloud what debate the punditocracy has watched. Everyone I talked to today thought Bush won flat out and that Kerry was, well, Kerry - self-important, wandering, and phony beyond belief. No one believes that he "will kill the terrorists" everyone believes that he will have a summit - probably Maui or Sun Valley. And so I wonder - what debate did the scribblers watch that the rest of America missed.
The substance doesn't matter and you should know's all perception and the perception last night was that John Kerry was presidential...Bush's numbers are not that strong and neither are his internals...all Kerry has to do is give the country a reasonable alternative - and he did that last night. The curtain was pulled back from the Rove Wizard of Oz spin machine and the mighty Wizard was revealed to be a mere mortal, and not a very confident one at that...
On style and clarity of message Kerry won, but not on substance. What Kerry said all night was wrong. Wrong, on rushing to war, wrong on Iran, wrong on North Korea, wrong on the amount of money spent to fight the terrorists, wrong on the subway closing, wrong on where he was in Russia, wrong on suggesting that Bush ordered Afghan fighters to lead in Tora Bora (it was a military decision not political). Most importantly, how can this be the wrong war and in Joe Lockhart's mind, one that should not have been started, and then have Kerry say that our soldier's are not dying in vain. It's one or the other. If the war is wrong so to are the deaths. If the war is right, then the sacrifices are heroic.
Spin all you want I`m a bush supporter and if he doesn`t improve in the next two debates I may vote for Kerry. Bush just came across as dumb as a brick, at least Kerry looks like he can think on his feet. Also if Bush goes into election day with less than a five point lead , don`t get to comfortable.
I think you're dead on. Actually, I have been watching the Iowa Electronic Market and the Trade Sports Trading and Betting Exchange and the manner in which those two have been trading would indicate things looking up for Bush. There were moments when Bush made me cringe last night but on the whole he came out the better man. Kerry kept his cool and did none or nearly none of the irksome things he's prone to. But who has the sound bites? Bush is weighted down with ammunition from the debate last night. Kerry has a videotape of Bush's smirks. Big deal! Bush has the Global Test line as well as numerous other bites that he is already using on the campaign trail.
In my own informal survey which, though small (62 persons), was sufficiently random to have statistical validity, the key outcome is that the debate did not change anyone's mind. This shocked me - not even 1? Ask persons whether the debate changed their mind, regardless of their prior preference, and I think you'll find the debate will not be a factor. Incidentally, of the 62, 34 thought Kerry did better, 26 thought Bush, and the other two had no opinion. But again, no one is changing their vote. In my view, Bush won all he needed. Kerry needs more votes, not debate "victories".
Your commentary is an obtuse equivocation for a poor performance by the President. While I agree that Kerry won the debate, I DON'T believe it was any kind of major victory. Those kind of things rarely happen in debates. Perhaps Kerry gets a 1-3 point bounce out of it. But maybe more importantly is he gets people to tune into debate #2. Reading your commentary makes it obvious that you too believe Bush didn't do very well, if not out right lost. When you're reaching for strategy assumptions to make sense of the win, or saying things like Bush not making any gaffes means Kerry didn't win, you've revealed more than you've written. (And the market angle is absurd -- what indicator (which was positive) was released this morning?) Bush appeared to be as limited as he has always been. His repetition of a few phrases ("it's hard work" or whatever it was) quickly revealed his lack of breadth -- not his on-point message, as some conservatives have been trying to spin. The president's answer to so many questions can't be the same over and over. Plus, I think Bush being out of his pre-approved audience campaign mode showed us how insulated he really is. We'll see what happens with the next debate. Again, it won't turn around the election, but it may gain one candidate or the other another couple of points. And in this tight race, that's important.
Thank you for your honest analysis. After having given it 24hrs+ to think about it, I think the President could have done better, but scored some points on the"Global"issue etc. I saw a clip of him in New Hampshire the next day---I wished he had brought that game to the debates! Also, Kerry mentioned at the debates that Bush would have done what he did in Iraq knowing what he knows now. Excuse me, that was Kerry's position a month ago! Why didn't Bush nail that? Anyway, thanks for what you do, your website is one of the few places I can go and get honest analysis that cuts through the spin.

Interesting emails, and there are more debate comments on our new comments page. J. McIntyre 4:12 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend | Comments

Friday, October 1 2004
I must confess I am a little surprised at the initial reaction that Senator Kerry won the debate last night. However, enough people on both sides of the political aisle have suggested that Kerry had the better night I think it is certainly possible that Kerry might receive a decent bump in the post-debate polls.

My analysis of the debate is pretty simple. Kerry was losing going in to the debate, and given the polarized nature of the country and the more or less tied race through the spring and mid-summer, his 4-6 point deficit with 4 1/2 weeks left was quite significant. Bottom line: I don't think Kerry did anything to change the fundamental dynamics of where this race is headed. In fact, I think the President was able to keep the dynamics of the race focused on the central issues that play into his strengths and Kerry's weaknesses.

Many are commenting on how Kerry appeared calm and "more presidential." While there might be some merit to that argument, it won't ultimately help Kerry that much because he is the one who is trailing, not Bush.

The only way Kerry's calm and measured approach makes any sense from the Kerry campaign's perspective, is if they have a lot more confidence in where this race was strategically before going in to the debate. Maybe they believe the IBD/TIPP poll and the other polls that show this a dead heat or a 1-2 point race. If they honestly felt they were in OK shape, then Kerry's strategy begins to make more sense. The only problem here for the Kerry folks, is that the preponderance of polling evidence, along with the market-based indicators of the race suggest it was not a tie or close race going into last night.

Given that I believe that Kerry was down a solid 4-6 points before the debate, I believe his strategy was terribly shortsighted. Whatever immediate gain he may reap in the initial media coverage, Kerry was not able to draw President Bush into making any gaffes, let alone any major gaffes. And in fact it was President Bush who was able to elicit some Kerry gaffes that the Bush campaign will be able to pound Kerry with in the following days. (Global test, International Criminal Court, bunker-busting bombs)

All of this debate analysis, has to differentiate between who "won" the debate on high-school debating points and who might have been more articulate, versus which candidate was enunciating a message that connected with the average American voter.

If you went into this debate philosophically opposed to preemptive war and the President's foreign-policy, then I'm sure Kerry sounded reasoned, measured, and intelligent. And to you Bush just repeated the same old stuff that you don't agree with, which only added to the appearance of his being ineffectual compared to Kerry.

However, if you favor Bush's approach to confronting terrorism and don't have the same type of abhorrence to preemptive war and unilateralism, I suspect the president's message came through loud and clear, and you were left wondering exactly what Kerry's position, or plan, was on Iraq.

I don't know what the polls are going to do in these next few days. Perhaps Kerry will get the 2-5 point bump that many in the media seem to be anticipating. But I wouldn't be totally shocked if Kerry gets very little traction out of this debate. We'll have to wait and see.

Right now, the market-based indicators of the race show a small move toward Kerry. But those results, at least so far, are more indicative of a draw, or even a small Bush win (remember, these are contracts on who will ultimately win the election), because there was probably a substantial Bush premium built into the pre-debate action on the potential that Bush could have knocked Kerry out of the race last night. The fact that Kerry has only upticked a little in these markets is probably not a good long-term omen for the Kerry campaign. Nor is today's 17 point gain in the S&P 500 good news for Kerry as the stock market since mid-July has tended to go up and down with the fortunes of President Bush.

Now, as a long time trader I know full well it is a mistake to try and attribute why exactly the market went up or down on an individual day. And the polls will come out soon enough giving us an idea of just how much the debate might have helped Senator Kerry. But even if Kerry does get a 2-5 point bounce, the big question will be whether he can hold that bounce and keep the race close, or whether this will end up being just a post-debate blip and the race will gravitate back to what might have become the new equilibrium in this race - a Bush lead of 3-7 points.

We'll see soon enough. J. McIntyre 4:23 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend | Comments

THE GREAT DEBATE: I don't think there is any question that John Kerry helped himself with his performance tonight. Just how much, and how much it may matter in the polls is a different story altogether.

Nevertheless, as a practical matter Kerry not only survived this debate and avoided being knocked out of the race tonight by President Bush, he'll probably emerge in the coming days with a reenergized base and a few undecideds in his column. The early spin among the punditry seems to be quite favorable for Kerry, and you don't have to be a black-helicopter wingnut to know that the MSM has everything they need to start churning out Kerry comeback stories from now through the end of the week.

Debates are such a strange ritual of style triumphing over substance. I mean, I'm sure John Kerry passed a certain bar tonight with many people because of his looks, his demeanor, and his articulateness - even though to my mind he really didn't articulate anything very substantive. It's like taking a used car and giving it a new muffler and paint job so it looks and sounds different than you remember. But if you pop the hood you'll see it's still running on the same old engine.

Many people are talking about Kerry's "global test" remark in response to Jim Lehrer's question about the doctrine of preemption. It certainly was a gaffe - or perhaps more of a Freudian slip - and it may come back to bite him, though I wouldn't hold your breath hoping the press focuses on it.

For my money, this exchange was the most damning part of the entire debate for Kerry:

KERRY: Well, you know, when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?

I believe that when you know something's going wrong, you make it right. That's what I learned in Vietnam. When I came back from that war I saw that it was wrong. Some people don't like the fact that I stood up to say no, but I did. And that's what I did with that vote. And I'm going to lead those troops to victory.

LEHRER: All right, new question. Two minutes, Senator Kerry.

Speaking of Vietnam, you spoke to Congress in 1971, after you came back from Vietnam, and you said, quote, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

LEHRER: Are Americans now dying in Iraq for a mistake?

KERRY: No, and they don't have to, providing we have the leadership that we put -- that I'm offering.

You do not have to have a PhD in logic to notice the egregious contradiction here. If your view is that invading Iraq was a mistake and U.S. soldiers are dying in Iraq (which they are) then our brave troops are, in fact, dying for a mistake.

As for President Bush, his performance struck me as a bit disappointing. He was disciplined (other people call it repetitive), spoke with conviction and didn't make any big mistakes. Still, he's clearly much better at making his case on the stump, and I thought he missed a lot of opportunties.

Tonight was not the only time over the last couple years I've found myself wishing for Tony Blair to act as a stand in for the President and defend the war in Iraq. Blair would have thrashed Kerry so viciously they'd still be vacuuming up pieces of him off the red carpet right now.

In the final analysis, Bush had the stronger case based on facts and substance and Kerry had the better performance from a stylistic perspective. How this may affect the polls over the coming days is anyone's guess.- T. Bevan 12:35 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, September 30 2004
LAST MINUTE ADVICE: Since everyone and their mother has given advice to the candidates on what they should do (or at least try to do) in tonight's debate, I figure I might as well join in. My last minute piece of advice for the President is simple: put the smirk away.

The smirk, of course, is a registered trademark of George W. Bush and could be the single most polarizing facial expression in political history. It absolutely drives liberals crazy. Conservatives, generally speaking, tend not to have a problem with Bush's smirk, instead seeing it as a refreshing and endearing reflection on some of the qualities they admire in the President.

Yesterday in this space John argued that the best chance for Senator Kerry to get back in this race is to take some dramatic risks tonight to try and get President Bush to lose his cool. I completely agree.

But I also think it could be equally if not more damaging to the President if he comes across tonight as too cocky, too confident, or too flip under the circumstances. The smirk is something that could do just that.

For as disciplined a candidate and speaker as Bush is, sometimes his mannerisms come across as out of sync with either the situation or the sincerity of the message he should be conveying.

Tonight's debate is deadly serious. More than two dozen children were killed by terrorists today in Iraq. President Bush should be confident in his arguments and confident in his ability, but he should be very aware that his gestures and expressions match the seriousness of the issues at hand.

NO "MO" FOR KERRY IN MO: The NY Times examines whether the swing state of Missouri has, in fact, already swung against John Kerry. The DNC and the 527's are still spending money to keep Kerry from being totally dark there, but it's looking more and more like even Dick Gephardt couldn't have pulled this rabbit out of the hat. T. Bevan 5:43 pm Link | Email

Wednesday, September 29 2004
At the beginning of last week I wrote:

Senator Kerry needs to get this race back to within 3-4 points in our RCP Poll Average by the first debate in ten days, or these poll numbers will start to harden and he will need a debate meltdown by the President to have a chance.

Now, the day before the big first debate Kerry trails President Bush by 5.9% in the 3-way RCP Poll Average and 4.4% in the head-to-head RCP Poll Average. On balance, the state polling continues to confirm a 4-6 point lead for the President. To complete the bad news for Kerry, the internals of the recently released ABC News/Wash Post and CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls are even worse than the headline, horserace numbers.

In the Gallup poll, voters felt President Bush would handle the economy, Iraq, and terrorism better then Senator Kerry, with Bush having a 27-point lead on the terrorism issue.

And in the ABC/WP poll Bush beat Kerry on eight, out of eight, key character and leadership questions among registered voters:

Please tell me whether the following statement applies more to (Bush) or more to (Kerry):
He is honest and trustworthy


He understands the problems of people like you
He is a strong leader
He will make the country safer and more secure
He shares your values
He's taken a clear stand on the issues
He has an appealing personality
He has strong religious faith

These numbers are horrifying if you are a Kerry supporter and, to be blunt, Kerry has almost no chance with polling internals this dismal. At this stage Kerry only has one choice left, and that is to try and destroy the President's internals.

The Bush campaign has done a masterful job of tarring Kerry as a serial flip-flopper. Furthermore, Kerry himself has been all over the place on the central issue of Iraq, leaving him no room to debate on the issues. Kerry's only hope is to bring Bush's numbers down into the toilet with his.

Right now the President has a +9.0% spread in his favorable/unfavorable rating as compared to John Kerry's -0.6%. The only way Kerry can realistically get back into the race is to try and drive the President's favorable/unfavorable ratings down to a level that is, at the very least, equal to where Kerry stands.

With only four and a half weeks left until election day, happy talk about campaigning on the issues and providing a positive message isn't going to get it done for Senator Kerry. And hoping for Iraq to just fall apart and have the American people decide to give up and turn against the President is just that, nothing but hope.

Kerry is going to have to go for broke Thursday night, and his game plan has got to be about one thing and one thing only: making the President look as bad as possible. Winning the debate on debating points, or on this issue or that point simply isn't going to cut it. Kerry has got to figure out a way to have more people disliking President Bush at the end of the debate than before it started.

If I were the Kerry people, I would focus on two clips of video. The first is Bush's debate with McCain in 2000 where McCain's dressing down and interruptions caused Bush to visibly lose his cool. Kerry should take the tactic of Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men" and try and goad President Bush into losing his temper. The only way Kerry can win this debate, is to make President Bush lose it.

Obviously this is an extremely high risk strategy. It is also quite likely that this type of tactic will backfire and leave John Kerry looking like a complete jerk, instead of the President. But Kerry is in so much trouble right now that if he truly wants to be President he has to roll the dice, play to win, and forget about the possible consequences.

I suspect the Bush campaign is well aware this tactic is a potential vulnerability for the President - which is why they negotiated so many rules into the debate format so as to forbid tactics that might lead to the President losing his temper. Kerry should throw caution to the wind and break the rules.

All President Bush has to do is ignore Kerry and stick to what he has been saying on the campaign trail. Let Kerry win with the armchair pundits and the professional debate scorers. As long as Bush keeps his cool and sticks to his message, he's the winner on Election Day. And that's the only win that counts. J. McIntyre 9:03 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, September 27 2004
The other day Matt Drudge caused a bit of a stir by linking to an item in John McCaslin's Washington Times column which said that in a 1997 debate with Representative Peter King, John Kerry called for preemptive military action against Saddam Hussein.

(Incidentally, today McCaslin runs a semi-retraction - or clarification, if you prefer - to the effect that the quote attributed to Kerry by Mr. King was incorrect, but his paraphrasing of Kerry's comments during the 1997 Crossfire debate was accurate.)

Some are suggesting that, if true, Kerry's call for preemptive military action against Iraq would represent the "ultimate flip-flop."And they'd be right, of course.

The reason this entire episode doesn't surprise me, however, is because it absolutely IS true. I've already written about it twice (here & here), so maybe the third time will be the charm to get this story the attention it deserves.

On November 9, 1997 Kerry gave a speech of his own free will on the floor of the United States Senate that was entered into the Congressional Record with the title, "We Must Be Firm With Saddam Hussein."

In the speech Kerry not only laid out the case for aggressive military action against Saddam Hussein, he cited Saddam's pursuit of WMD as the main rationale for action:

Kerry went on to argue that the threat posed by Saddam was so grave and so real that the United States should act unilaterally, if necessary:

Let's put these remarks in some context. Kerry gave this blistering speech in response to the fact that on October 29, 1997, Saddam Hussein kicked U.S. weapons inspectors out of Iraq. Kerry argued it was "unthinkable" that Saddam be allowed to scuttle the inspection process and defy the will of the international community.

Yet despite more resolutions by the UN Security Council AND the passage of a law by Congress making regime change in Iraq the official policy of the US government AND a four-day bombing campaign against Saddam Hussein in late 1998, weapons inspectors did not set foot on Iraqi soil again until the Bush administration forced them back in in November 2002.

In the intervening four years America suffered terrorist attacks on her embassies in Africa, on her warship in Yemen, and on her homeland on September 11.

So is it plausible for John Kerry to have believed in 1997 that Saddam was a grave threat requiring the use of significant, preemptive, and unilateral military force but to now, more than five years later and in a post-9/11 world, stand before us and argue the opposite? It is not.

John Kerry's own words both then and now damn him as a man who changes his beliefs and positions based on political expediency and nothing more. - T. Bevan 12:15 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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