Friday, October 15


From today's WSJ on-line:

In the 2000 presidential race, debates were where George W. Bush seized the momentum. In 2004, debates are where it escaped him.
In any case, it increasingly appears the debates this year are the most significant ones since the 1980 Jimmy Carter-Ronald Reagan encounter. More than that, they may have reversed a trend that began with the spread of cable television in the 1990s in which public attention was declining.
The preliminary verdict of the effect of this year's debates, echoed publicly by Democratic strategists and privately by Republicans, is clear: After entering the two-week debate season with a national lead, Mr. Bush is locked in a dead heat, with momentum favoring Mr. Kerry. That partly is because Mr. Kerry helped himself with a smooth and confident effort.
Andrew Kohut, a veteran pollster who heads the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, agrees that "it would be too early" to conclude that Mr. Kerry has taken control of the race. But, he adds, "the bottom line of these debates: Kerry changed the impression that he was the candidate who could not put one foot in front of another....The stature gap between the two seemed much smaller."

That is evident in several surveys showing that Mr. Bush's lead -- pegged by his strategists to be as high as six percentage points before the first debate on Sept. 30 -- has vanished. An ABC News tracking poll released yesterday, in which Messrs. Kerry and Bush were tied at 48% among likely voters, showed that the Democrat's personal favorability ratings are now at parity with the president's after he lagged behind badly before the debates.

Those improvements in personal impressions of Mr. Kerry are reflected even in the spin offered by leaders of the two political parties. After a numbing campaign season of political advertisements, said Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe: "This was the time when voters got to look at John Kerry and decide, 'He could be commander in chief.' That's more important than anything else."


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