1. All Three Network Polls Declare Kerry the Winner Once Again
All three network "snap" polls, conducted after Wednesday night's presidential debate, declared John Kerry the winner -- CBS and CNN by wide margins, ABC by a single point. After skipping it for the second debate, CBS News resurrected its Web-based survey of about 200 "uncommitted" people who called Kerry the winner by 39 percent to 25 percent over President Bush. CNN's Bill Schneider relayed how those in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of 511 registered voters who watched the debate gave it to "Kerry by a decisive margin, 13 points, 52 to 39 percent," which meant that "Kerry was perceived to be the winner, by viewers, of all three debates." ABC's poll of 566 registered voters found a near-even split, 42 percent who thought Kerry won to 41 percent who went with Bush, but Peter Jennings was quick to point out how respondents tilted toward the GOP.
2. FNC Sees Bush Win, But Other Nets Paint Kerry as the Victor
Just past 11pm EDT, Bill Kristol argued on FNC that "I just think it's a smashing victory for Bush. I think the instant polls will show it. I think the mainstream media will have to acknowledge it." Kristol was zero for two regarding the media with the snap polls coming in for Kerry (see item #1 above) and virtually all the analysts and reporters on the other networks either giving the night to Kerry or refraining from picking a winner. On CBS, John Roberts decided: "I would probably have to give it to John Kerry." Roberts contended that "what you saw up there tonight really was two people who could be President." CNN analyst Carlos Watson asserted: "I'll say that Kerry won and that Kerry's now three for three." ABC's Mark Halperin scolded Kerry for not hitting Bush hard enough on tax cuts and NBC's Tim Russert was disappointed Kerry missed a chance to label Bush as "part of the radical right."
3. Some Denounce Liberal Label as "Tinny" and a "Tired Horse"
Liberal label outmoded? Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham contended on MSNBC before the debate that the liberal tag "seems a little tinny these days. I think it's a more serious time." He argued that if Bush "simply throws red meat out that's trouble." After the debate, Boston Globe reporter Nina Easton complained on CNN that Republican have "ridden that tired horse of calling Kerry a liberal from Massachusetts and out of the mainstream, which doesn't, I don't think, play that well to swing voters."
4. Decrying & Admiring Kerry for Raising Mary Cheney's Sexuality
NBC's Tim Russert offered a non-judgmental assessment that John Kerry's invoking the lesbianism of "President Cheney's daughter was a very interesting maneuver" and MSNBC's Chris Matthews, in reaction to President Bush's comment that he doesn't know if homosexuality is genetic, stated, to Ron Reagan's affirmation that Matthews was "right on the money," that he "was waiting for John Kerry to come back to the President and say, 'When did you choose?' He didn't do that obviously. He didn't have a sense of humor but I think that would've a great response." But other analysts on MSNBC, as well as FNC, condemned the Kerry remark. Newsweek's Jon Meacham asserted: "I found it jolting. I wouldn't have done it. I think it was out-of-bounds." Pat Buchanan proposed it was "as bad as if the President brought up...the fact that John Kerry was divorced." On FNC, Morton Kondracke declared: "I think it's low dirty politics."
5. Moderator Schieffer's Questions Hit Candidates from the Left
Moderator Bob Schieffer skewed the debate topics with a slate of questions tilted ideologically to the left. Of Schieffer's 20 questions, six came explicitly from the left, and that's not even counting three queries to Bush clearly intended to force him into expressing what the media define as unpopular views on divisive social policies: Whether he believes "homosexuality is a choice," whether he'd like to overturn Roe v Wade and what role "faith" plays in his "policy decisions?" While Schieffer hit Kerry from the left three times, he never once pressed Bush from the right. Schieffer challenged Kerry on how he can keep his pledge to not raise taxes on those earning less than $200,000 "without running this country deeper into debt?" and he tossed up to Kerry a liberal talking point softball about how the "gap between rich and poor is growing wider" and so "is it time to raise" the minimum wage? He scolded Bush for not doing more to enact a liberal policy, the extension of the ban on assault weapons: "You did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?"
6. "Top 10 President Bush Explanations for the Bulge in His Jacket"
Letterman's "Top Ten President Bush Explanations for the Bulge in His Jacket."
All Three Network Polls Declare Kerry
the Winner Once Again
All three network "snap" polls conducted after Wednesday night's presidential debate, held at Arizona State University in Tempe, declared John Kerry the winner -- CBS and CNN by wide margins, ABC by a single point.
After skipping it for the second debate, CBS News resurrected its Web-based survey of about 200 "uncommitted" people who called Kerry the winner by 39 percent to 25 percent over President Bush and the percent who said Kerry "had clear positions" doubled. CNN's Bill Schneider relayed how those in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of 511 registered voters who watched the debate gave it to "Kerry by a decisive margin, 13 points, 52 to 39 percent," which meant that "Kerry was perceived to be the winner, by viewers, of all three debates." Schneider added that unlike in the previous debates, more "thought Kerry was the one who agreed with them more on the issues they cared about."
ABC's poll of 566 registered voters found a near-even split, 42 percent who thought Kerry won to 41 percent who went with Bush, but Peter Jennings was quick to point out how respondents tilted toward the GOP since of those reached by pollsters, 38 percent "identified themselves as Republicans, 30 percent as Democrats."
-- CBS News. Toward the end of CBS's 10:30pm EDT post-debate half hour, Anthony Mason, at the Manhattan set with Dan Rather, ran through the numbers collected in the Knowledge Networks survey via Web TV of "uncommitted" voters:
"Dan, the uncommitted voters in our survey have given the edge in this debate to, this final debate, to John Kerry. Let's look at the breakdown [numbers on screen]: 39 percent scored Kerry the winner, 25 percent said Bush, 36 percent called it a tie."
With a scale on screen to illustrate positive and negative feedback, Mason elaborated: "As these voters watched, they registered their approval or disapproval of the candidates on a sliding scale. Going into this debate, nearly two-thirds of the voters in this survey said they thought the state of the economy was bad. When President Bush was asked about the preventing the outsourcing of jobs overseas, watch the response. It actually goes negative. [Bush clip] Now, watch the meter turn up when Kerry responds. [Kerry clip] Now, the President did score well when he talked about his tax cuts. [Bush clip]
"At the end of the night, these uncommitted voters said both candidates shared their priorities. But John Kerry gained some ground with these voters. Before the debate, 29 percent said he had clear positions on the issues. After, that number doubled to 60 percent. Now, finally, we asked these voters if they learned anything from the three debates that might help decide their vote -- 70 percent said yes. Who are these uncommitted voters? They're a combination of registered voters who say they're still undecided and voters with a current preference who say their minds could still change. This uncommitted group generally gives President Bush lower approval ratings than the overall electorate, but they remain unpersuaded by Kerry..."
For the CBSNews.com rundown of the responses from 211 people: www.cbsnews.com
-- CNN, as tracked down by the MRC's Jessica Anderson. About 15 minutes into a midnight EDT NewsNight produced in New York, Bill Schneider checked in with poll results, with a table on screen showing the assessments of all three presidential debates:
"The viewers of the debate -- we interviewed them beforehand -- they were evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but they were not split on this debate. Their verdict? Kerry by a decisive margin, 13 points, 52 to 39. As you can see, nearly as decisive as Kerry's win in the first debate when viewers thought he won by a 16-point margin [53 to 37 percent]. It was that second debate, the townhall in St. Louis, that was close, with a very narrow win for Kerry [47 to 45 percent]. But in the end, Kerry was perceived to be the winner, by viewers, of all three debates."
Aaron Brown: "Take a couple of issues, if you can, and how the polling sample reacted to those issues."
Schneider: "Well, look at the economy. We asked 'who would handle the economy better?' Now remember, Kerry won that first debate decisively, it was international -- they thought Bush would handle the economy better. The second viewers were, on the second debate, were tied. But look at this: Kerry has opened up a lead on the economy among viewers of tonight's debate [51 to 46 percent]. He got an even higher rating on health care; education was a draw. Did viewers rate Bush better on any issue? Yes, they did: taxes, but by only a three-point margin, 50 to 47 percent."
Brown: "And just because you have pretty much an encyclopedic mind on this sort of thing, has that narrowed, has the tax question narrowed?"
Schneider: "Yes, it has."
Brown: "Okay, and we've all paid a lot of attention in these debates to style. There was the Bush, kind of, dismissiveness in the first debate and the more assertiveness particularly early in the second debate. How did viewers – not viewers, well, viewers who were polled -- see style?"
Schneider: "Well, as in the previous debates, they thought Kerry expressed himself more clearly and had a better understanding of the issues, but by a small margin viewers found Bush more likable, as they have in the past. But here's an important question: 'Who do you think agrees with you more on the issues you care about?' In the first debate, even though Kerry won, they said Bush narrowly [49 to 46 percent]. Second debate, also narrowly Bush [50 to 49 percent]. This debate, clearly they thought Kerry was the one who agreed with them more on the issues they cared about [53 to 46 percent]. Clearly, the debates were an effort to, well, they did what they're supposed to do. They were supposed to be a contest about the issues, and on the issues, that is where Kerry clearly won."
For the CNN.com summary of the poll results: www.cnn.com
-- ABC News. At about 10:45pm EDT, from New York, Peter Jennings acknowledged the influence of poll numbers hyped by the media: "Well, we haven't got the results of our ABC News poll yet -- I promise we will get it. But one of the reasons it's very important, John Harwood writes about this in the Wall Street Journal today, he says one of the big competitions at a moment like this, out there in the spin room and everywhere else, is to get what's called the 'bandwagon effect' for the last almost three weeks of the campaign. So whoever gets the nod, if anybody does get the nod with the poll this evening is going to capitalize on it like nobody's business."
Five minutes later, Jennings delivered the results: "We manage, now, to have the results of our poll, which we have taken immediately after the debate itself. Five hundred and sixty-six people were called this evening -- we'll identify them in a second. But first, pretty much of a tie-off, at least at this first stage: 42 percent think Mr. Kerry won, 41 percent think Mr. Bush, and 14 percent think it was a tie. Now, here is the party identification of the debate viewers we were able to talk to tonight -- other people were either not at home, watching the ball game. Even though the audience appears to have been quite large for tonight, we reached 38 percent, people that identified themselves as Republicans, 30 percent as Democrats, and 28 percent Independents. But the bottom line is, maybe not the bottom line, our poll line tonight is 41 percent for Mr. Bush and 42 percent for Mr. Kerry."
For the ABCNews.com posting of their survey findings: abcnews.go.com
FNC Sees Bush Win, But Other Nets Paint
Kerry as the Victor
Just past 11pm EDT, Weekly Standard Publisher Bill Kristol argued on FNC that while "maybe I'm wrong, I just think it's a smashing victory for Bush. I think the instant polls will show it. I think the mainstream media will have to acknowledge it." Kristol was zero for two regarding the media with the snap polls coming in for Kerry (see item #1 above) and virtually all the analysts and reporters on the other networks either giving the night to Kerry or refraining from picking a winner.
On CBS, John Roberts described the debate as "a really tough one to call," but "I would probably have to give it to John Kerry." Roberts contended that "what you saw up there tonight really was two people who could be President."
CNN's Jeff Greenfield asserted that "neither one of these candidates did themselves nearly as much good as they could have. I think that, by default, gives it to Kerry because that's where the campaigns seem to be drifting." CNN analyst Carlos Watson piped up: "I'll accept Jeff's analysis and I'll say that Kerry won and that Kerry's now three for three."
Over on ABC, Dean Reynolds suggested that Kerry's numbers "have been moving in the right direction for the last ten days," and "this debate did nothing to stop that," so "from the Kerry point of view, they'll be happy about the results tonight."
Liberal PBS and NPR host Tavis Smiley joined ABC's team. He credited Kerry for how he "brought up faith first. He brought up God first." Smiley also championed, in the form of a complaint, how "as an African-American voter, I was pleased that we finally, after four debates, albeit in the last 15 minutes of the debate, finally got to issues that matter to people of color."
Mark Halperin, ABC's Political Director, scolded Kerry for not hitting Bush hard enough on tax cuts since "the absolute dollar figures have gone to wealthier Americans. That's been one of the Democrats' main talking points. I don't think he hit that particularly hard."
NBC's Tim Russert also chided Kerry for a missed opportunity after Bush charged that Kerry is out of the mainstream: "I was somewhat surprised that John Kerry didn't counter by going back after the President, saying well you're part of the radical right and just trying to engage in that particular vein."
On MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell saw "a very strong debate for both," but she decided that "by invoking John Kennedy," Kerry "cleared up any confusion that might have existed about how he as a Catholic is dealing with this very complex issue."
Kristol, who also maintained that "Bush knocked Kerry out tonight" and had "slaughtered him," found support from his FNC colleagues. "If he had done as well in the first debate as he did tonight, he'd have a much bigger lead in this race," Fred Barnes predicted. Jim Angle echoed: "I think it's fair to say this was the President's best performance of the three debates." And Morton Kondracke trumpeted: "This makes Bush the 'Comeback Kid' of these debates."
Now, a further rundown of the post-debate assessments offered by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and FNC following the third and final presidential debate held at Arizona State University in Tempe. As in previous debates, NBC's Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert traveled to the debate site, but the ABC and CBS anchors stayed in New York as did the FNC analyst team, though all had reporters on scene. All of the MSNBC and CNN on-air personnel were in Tempe (CNN until 12am EDT, MSNBC until 2am EDT).
-- ABC News, as monitored by Jessica Anderson with tips from Rich Noyes:
# Jennings/Halperin. Peter Jennings cued up Halperin to list a missed chance only for Kerry: "Mark, as you listened to Senator Kerry tonight, did you think he missed opportunities to respond to the President on issues such as health care?"
Mark Halperin, ABC Political Director, in the spin room: "I think his biggest missed moment was on taxes. Where President Bush said that a lot of the tax benefits from his tax cuts have gone to middle-class Americans, I think Senator Kerry had a pretty good debating point to make, to say a lot of the tax cut, the absolute dollar figures, have gone to wealthier Americans. That's been one of the Democrats' main talking points. I don't think he hit that particularly hard."
# Tavis Smiley, via satellite from California: "There were, I think, for me at least, two moments; one moment as an American voter and, might I add, another moment as an African-American voter. As an American voter, the moment for me where I do disagree respectfully with your colleagues, is that I think that Senator Kerry, if you recall from the debate, he went and got faith first. He brought up faith first. He brought up God first. He quoted Scripture first. Mr. Bush only went there when asked near the end of the debate by Mr. Schieffer. So I think that Mr. Kerry was very clear that there is a growing number, a large number of Americans who do have an abiding faith. He went there first and reminded us, later in the debate, that he had gone there first, number one. That's my sense as an American voter.
"As an African-American voter, I was pleased that we finally, after four debates, albeit in the last 15 minutes of the debate, finally got to issues that matter to people of color. We live in the most multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic America ever, we're deciding the leader of the free world, and it took us four debates, into the last 15 minutes to hear a discussion about issues that matter to people of color, beyond those other issues. And so, I was a bit disturbed by that. You go back to the vice presidential debate, Mr. Kerry, Mr. Edwards rather and Vice President Cheney asked by Gwen Ifill, a question about AIDS and people of color, both of them were clueless. Tonight at least, I finally got some conversation about things that matter to me as a voter of color."
# Dean Reynolds, from the spin room: "Well, Peter, I think the candidate whose numbers have been moving in the right direction for the last ten days has been Senator John Kerry. This debate did nothing to stop that, and I think, from the Kerry point of view, they'll be happy about the results tonight."
-- CBS News:
# Jim Axelrod, in Tempe: "At the end of the day, this was about the critical impact on undecided voters. And because so much familiar ground was plowed, because this was more or less 90 minutes of greatest hits from both men's stump speeches, I'm not sure very much was done by way of moving undecideds. Thirteen days ago, when this debate process started, 20 percent of the voters were seen as uncommitted. Either undecided in a traditional sense, or committed but still could be moved. Coming into tonight, that number was 18 percent. And I'm not sure if very much took place tonight that's gonna nudge undecided voters, or uncommitted voters, even more."
# John Roberts, in Tempe: "Well, Dan, certainly there were lots of highs and lots of lows, as Jim Axelrod just illuminated. This one's a really tough one to call in terms of who might have come out the winner. I would probably have to give it to John Kerry. He seemed a little bit more poised. Don't forget he's got a lot more experience in this type of podium type of debate. But the two of them, as Jim said, were very conversant in the issues. I think what you saw up there tonight really was two people who could be President. There were two Presidents up on the stage, and for undecided voters, I think really now it's just a matter of which one you like better. I mean, they both obviously have their own positions, different as they may be. They both have quite a comprehensive command of the facts. So really an undecided voter has to take a look at the measure of the man and say, 'Who do I want to have coming into my living room for the next four years?' and make up their mind that way...."
"I think that for me one of the more interesting lines of the night came at the very end when President Bush was asked by our colleague Bob Schieffer, 'What have you learned from women?' and he says, 'I've learned to listen to them. I've learned to stand up straight and not to scowl,' which, of course, was a reference to his performance during the first debate."
# Dan Rather quipped: "I may be wrong, but I think some people will look at this third debate and say you needed a 'speed-yawning' course to get through it."
-- NBC News:
# Tim Russert, inside the venue: "I don't think it changed very much tonight, Tom. I think it's going to continue now for people to maker up their minds. Do they want to change or keep the President there? Two interesting strategies that were so apparent. John Kerry openly campaigning for support of women. Constant references to children. Talking about minimum wage, nine million women will get a salary increase, 76 cents on the dollar, and on and on. George Bush trying very, very hard to say John Kerry is out of the mainstream. I was somewhat surprised that John Kerry didn't counter by going back after the President, saying well you're part of the radical right and just trying to engage in that particular vein. One thing that also surprised me was when Bob Schieffer asked what would you say to a worker who lost his job to someone overseas who is getting less money. Neither candidate addressed that in a personal way. 'Let me talk to that worker. Look 'em in the eye, in her eyes, grab their hand and talk to them. It was very much a debate steeped in data and statistics. And I wonder how much it connected with the American people, because I think that's what they were looking for tonight."
# Tom Brokaw to Rudy Giuliani: "It's well known that you have differences with the President on a number of these issues as well. Tonight he defended the idea of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages in this country. You're one who has looked favorably on the idea of expanding gay rights in American society. Have you talked to him about that directly?"
Giuliani: "Sure. The thing I respect about the President is he knows what he believes..."
Brokaw: "John Kerry tonight said to the President you have not vetoed one spending bill, the first President never to have done that. John McCain, the Wall Street Journal, has been very tough on Republicans in Congress for the level at which they're spending. Spending is going up eight percent a year. You were a Mayor of a city who had to face these budgets. Wouldn't you have vetoed some of these spending bills and tried to reduce the deficit that faces this country?"
Brokaw then quizzed former Senator Bob Kerrey on how John Kerry is spending money, from the elimination of the tax cut, on a lot of programs and you can't do it all just by rolling back the tax cut; and Brokaw wondered what social program was Kerry out in front on in Senate?
# NBC wrapped up with Russert breaking out his scribble board to show how Bush is safe in 25 states totaling 217 electoral votes while Kerry has 14 states and DC with 200 electoral votes. Russert argued the winner will be whomever wins two of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
-- CNN, as monitored by the MRC's Jessica Anderson:
# Jeff Greenfield, immediately after the debate: "In terms of who this campaign is about, whether it's about Bush's record or Kerry's record, my own feeling is this debate was so awash in numbers and figures, that I think if the audience was looking for a sharp answer as to whether to rehire the President or hire this new leader, I'm not sure they got a lot of answers. This sounded more like one of those Sunday morning debates between two candidates for Senator than a debate in which anyone sounded like they had the bearing of a Commander-in-Chief -- maybe that helps Kerry because Bush is the Commander-in-Chief. But I thought neither candidate used this debate to their full opportunity."
# Greenfield: "I think to the extent that the Republicans were looking for the President to lay the heavy lumber on John Kerry, that did not happen. And so if we've gone through these last ten days with Kerry slowly moving up on Bush, I don't see anything in this debate that will change that, but I sure don't think this was John Kerry's strongest debate either. I'm not trying to waffle; I really think it was a debate where neither one of these candidates did themselves nearly as much good as they could have. I think that, by default, gives it to Kerry because that's where the campaigns seem to be drifting – drifting, not moving quickly, drifting."
Wolf Blitzer: "Carlos, who won?"
Carlos Watson: "I'll accept Jeff's analysis and I'll say that Kerry won and that Kerry's now three for three. But significantly, I'll point out that four years ago, arguably the President won all three debates. Ended up, depending on which poll you believed, up by five or up by as much as 11, and two and a half, three weeks later lost the popular vote by half a million..."
(The MRC's Tim Graham alerted me to Watson's liberal background. From his bio on CNN.com: "Watson's career spans law, journalism, politics and business. While at Harvard University, Watson wrote for the Miami Herald and the Detroit Free Press, where his articles included several high profile, front-page stories. During this time, Watson also worked for Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, Sen. Bob Graham and Democratic National Committee Chair Ron Brown. After graduating from Harvard with honors, he served as chief of staff and campaign manager for Florida Rep. Daryl Jones." See: cnnstudentnews.cnn.com )
-- MSNBC, as reviewed by MRC analyst Geoff Dickens:
# Chris Matthews: "Well they're saying goodnight to each other. But that was a pretty good debate tonight. I thought it was a great night for America. I think a lot of people have a lot of answers to their questions."
# Andrea Mitchell: "I thought a very strong debate for both. I think that John Kerry was strong on minimum wage, George Bush on taxes. Kerry made his points about abortion which is directed to primarily a female audience. By invoking John Kennedy I think he cleared up any confusion that might have existed about how he as a Catholic is dealing with this very complex issue...."
"Well I don't know that anyone will report this but John Kerry really pandered on Social Security. I mean by saying that he would not address it in any way, that he would make no changes. He made the kind of promise that candidates make but Presidents have to live with. And people will, will probably regret, if he gets elected he will regret that he made that kind of promise because he won't be able to lead Congress into any hard choices. I think Bush scored on 'global test,' and 'terrorism is a nuisance.' Not on substance but on the rhetoric of that. And Kerry on minimum wage, on his Social Security promise because it's a popular promise."
# Newsweek's Jon Meacham: "I thought it was a remarkably civil, substantive debate. And to, since we talked about Catholicism tonight, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, 'We're back to where we began.' A very closely divided race. It's gonna be, completely, I think at this point, about turning out the bases on November 2nd..."
"I think that the lead I would write would be that John Kerry took a populist war straight to the President. It was, this was a very traditional debate. I think that's what's so fascinating. It's almost as though the 1990s didn't happen, triangulation didn't happen. Compassionate conservatism didn't happen. This was a debate about the role of government in people's lives, about the values that we talk about on the national stage..."
# Tom Brokaw, just past 11pm EDT: "Well I remember listening to Pat Buchanan last week talk about they must have done some polling in the Bush campaign and they rolled out the 'liberal' word and they couldn't roll it out enough tonight. And I think that what we have seen Chris are the terms for the final three weeks, minus one day, of this campaign. And which the President is gonna continue to describe John Kerry at every opportunity as, 'a tax-and-spend liberal who has done nothing in his 20 years in the United States Senate. He's to the left even of Ted Kennedy. His programs are unrealistic. I believe in an ownership society. It's your money not the government's money.'
"For his part Senator Kerry has settled on saying that nothing is working especially for black- Americans and especially for women in this country. The issues that he talked about here tonight. The wage differential for them, for example. Education, children and healthcare. The big question is folks out there can add it up. Can the Kerry campaign pay for all the things that they're promising and reduce the deficit as they say that they are. And on the other side, of course, can the President ever get this budget back in balance and assure that Social Security will be there with the kind of deficits that we're seeing?"
-- FNC, as monitored by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
# Fred Barnes: "Well, it was clearly President Bush's best debate. He seemed to marshal all of the arguments that he wanted on many of these domestic issues, many of which are traditional Democratic issues, including health care. On that one in particular, John Kerry was on defensive. He kept having to say, 'I'm not proposing a government-run health care plan,' and so on. And Bush was extremely good on that. As several of us noted in the beginning, this was the first debate where the President actually seemed animated and strong on the first question. In the others, it's taken him sort a half an hour or so to get rolling. He seemed happy to be there, which certainly wasn't true in the first debate....If he had done as well in the first debate as he did tonight, he'd have a much bigger lead in this race."
# Bill Kristol: "The President started saying recently that Kerry can run but he can't hide, which I believe is what Joe Lewis said in, what, 1946, was it, before his fight with Billy Conn? Lewis knocked Conn out in the eighth round. I think Bush knocked Kerry out tonight. I think it was just, he just slaughtered him. I was keeping track of the 20 questions. I don't have Kerry winning any question outright. I think maybe six or seven were sort of tied. And I have Bush winning outright a majority of the questions."
# Morton Kondracke: "This makes Bush the 'Comeback Kid' of these debates....I think it's better to score well on the first debate and not to raise the, with the biggest audience and not raise questions about your capability because I think the President definitely lost ground in the first two debates. The question is whether it, you know, he made it up tonight, depends on the audience, I think, and the feedback."
Brit Hume: "It also depends on the news media, Bill. What's your sense about how the news media will play this? We, you at this table, you three have agreed, and the reaction from inside the hall suggests that Bush won, but will that be reflected in the news coverage?"
Kristol: "I think so....Maybe I'm wrong, I just think it's a smashing victory for Bush. I think the instant polls will show it. I think the mainstream media will have to acknowledge it."
Some Denounce Liberal Label as "Tinny"
and a "Tired Horse"
Liberal label outmoded? Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham contended on MSNBC before the debate that the liberal tag "seems a little tinny these days. I think it's a more serious time." He argued that if Bush "simply throws red meat out that's trouble." After the debate, Boston Globe reporter Nina Easton complained on CNN that Republican have "ridden that tired horse of calling Kerry a liberal from Massachusetts and out of the mainstream, which doesn't, I don't think, play that well to swing voters."
Early in MSNBC's 8pm EDT hour, the MRC's Geoff Dickens caught these comments from Meacham in reaction to Pat Buchanan's correct prediction that Bush would label Kerry a liberal:
Meacham: "I tend to think that if Pat's right and Bush sings the same old song, so to speak, that we've been hearing really since '64, '68, I think that's dangerous."
Chris Matthews: "You mean the trouble in River City song? 'Oh we got trouble in River City and it rhymes with T and it stands for P!' I mean are we gonna get that song?"
Meacham: "As long as there, as long as there is an 'L' in that, yes. I think the 'liberal, liberal, liberal, liberal,' seems a little tinny these days. I think it's a more serious time. I think people understand that. I think Bush if he simply throws red meat out that's trouble."
Following the debate, during the "Brown Table" segment on CNN's midnight EDT NewsNight, Nina Easton of the Boston Globe picked Bush as the winner, but chided him for applying the liberal label:
"Well, first of all, it's unclear how many people, Aaron, actually turned off Pedro Martinez to watch the debate tonight, so it really will be up to the spinners and kind of how that goes in the next few days. And I have to say, I'm going to be a contrary voice on your show. I thought George Bush did very well. I thought he came off very much as the compassionate conservative that he was in 2000. He also opened up a new front against Kerry. For a long time, they've ridden that tired horse of calling Kerry a liberal from Massachusetts and out of the mainstream, which doesn't, I don't think, play that well to swing voters.
"But what he did do was talk about Kerry's relatively thin record in the Senate and say that that shows a lack of leadership. And in fact, Kerry talked about the one major piece of legislation that he had honchoed, which was a bill to provide health insurance for children. We explore in our book, our biography of Kerry, how in fact Kerry proposed that in '96 during his campaign with Weld, but in fact Kennedy, his colleague, was the one who carried the water on that legislation, and was kind of angry at the time that John Kerry had taken credit for it. So that was one of the, sort of a subtext of that little exchange there."
Decrying & Admiring Kerry for Raising
Mary Cheney's Sexuality
NBC's Tim Russert offered a non-judgmental assessment that John Kerry invoking the lesbianism of "President Cheney's daughter was a very interesting maneuver" and MSNBC's Chris Matthews, in reaction to President Bush's comment that he doesn't know if homosexuality is genetic, stated, to Ron Reagan's affirmation that Matthews was "right on the money," that he "was waiting for John Kerry to come back to the President and say, 'When did you choose?' He didn't do that obviously. He didn't have a sense of humor but I think that would've a great response." But other analysts on MSNBC, as well as FNC, condemned the Kerry remark. Newsweek's Jon Meacham asserted: "I found it jolting. I wouldn't have done it. I think it was out-of-bounds." Pat Buchanan proposed it was "as bad as if the President brought up...the fact that John Kerry was divorced." On FNC, Morton Kondracke declared: "I think it's low dirty politics."
FNC's Jim Angle reported that Kerry's reference to Cheney's daughter being a lesbian elicited "a low groan" from journalists in "the press room," though he may have meant those in the room with the Bush spinners.
(On CBS, John Roberts relayed: "John Kerry pulled a strategy from John Edwards at the vice presidential debate when asked about homosexuality, he brought up Mary Cheney, Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian. That was something that a very senior Bush campaign official, when Edwards did it, said was 'smart but cheesy.'")
-- MSNBC, as tracked by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens. In the 11pm EDT half hour, Tim Russert opined from inside the venue: "John Kerry I thought came down very firmly and said, 'It is a matter of biology and, and I think it's, it's something that every American family is affected with, if not directly certainly friends or relatives.' And I thought John Kerry invoking President Cheney's daughter was a very interesting maneuver at that particular stage of the debate. It certainly caught the President's attention."
Matthews: "I was waiting for John Kerry to come back to the President and say, 'When did you choose?' He didn't do that obviously. He didn't have a sense of humor but I think that would've a great response, Tom."
Tom Brokaw wouldn't take the bait: "Ah, you're not gonna get me to respond to your response, Chris. If you think I'm going there-"
Russert: "You're hanging out there alone on that one big guy."
Brokaw: "Right, right you're all by yourself there."
A bit later, Matthews repeated his point to his panel sitting at an outside locale in Tempe: "Let's get back to the panel right now. A little hilarity there. But, you know, I've heard that question put by people who are gay rights activists. They've said it right to people like Trent Lott, 'When did you choose?'"
Ron Reagan: "Your point is right on the money. That was a very curious answer for Mr. Bush. 'I don't know.' Well why doesn't he know? Does he not know any gay people, has he not talked to any gay people? When did you choose to be heterosexual?"
Others on the panel weren't so approving of Kerry raising the sexuality of a candidate's daughter.
Andrea Mitchell suggested that "you can speak generically about the issue without making it personal and bringing up someone else's family if it has not been raised by the person themself in that context."
Pat Buchanan: "Exactly. I just thought it was wrong and the example he brought up about a wife or something like that, whose, whose husband was homosexual and left the relationship. That was an example without using the name of any individual in it. But to bring up Cheney's daughter I was, I was astounded that he did it!"
Jon Meacham, Managing Editor of Newsweek, soon chimed in: "But the implication, the reason both Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry have raised it is to implicitly accuse Bush and Cheney of hypocrisy, full-stop. That's all this is. There's nothing more about it. And, and I think it's wrong. I found it jolting. I wouldn't have done it. I think it was out-of-bounds. I think that was a good way to put it. But there's no question that, that's what the hardball goal here is."
Matthews: "And the, and the President's refusal to say it's a matter of nurture or nature or something like that but not a matter of explicit choice. It seemed to me a very cautious answer."
Buchanan: "Well Chris, Chris that would be as bad as, as bad as if the President brought up when they were talking about wives, brought up the fact that John Kerry was divorced. It would be jolting and out-of-bounds and he didn't do it. And I just, I think he crossed the line."
-- FNC, as watched by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth. As soon as he got to speak after the debate wrapped up, Morton Kondracke, from FNC's DC facility, took on Kerry:
"I want to say something that I forgot to mention in the vice presidential debate because Kerry repeated it tonight, which I think is totally underhanded, and that is the outing of Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter. John Edwards brought that up out of the blue and specifically referred to it, and it was, and it struck me as a low blow designed to weaken the Bush-Cheney team with right-wingers because, who might know that Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter. I think it's dirty pool on the Kerry-Edwards campaign's part. Now, I think on most issues, what struck me was how forward-looking the President was. What we're going to do in the last term, we're going to continue what we've done in this term. He talked as a reformer. He's going to reform Social Security, he has already reformed education, and I thought that that gave him a positive thrust, and I thought, and he was also aggressive, more so than he was in the last one. I think he won this debate. Kerry, as Fred said, was on the defensive a lot of the time, so I think it was a great, much better performance by Bush."
Ten minutes later, referring to a GOP focus group, Jim Angle checked in from the spin room: "There was one moment that got a very negative reaction from the crowd, and that was when Senator Kerry mentioned the Vice President's daughter, Mary Cheney, talked about how she is gay and used her as an example. That got a very negative reaction in the focus group. And, I must say, here in the press room, there was a low groan when Senator Kerry mentioned that. So, all in all, the Bush people are quite happy. The President has sort of come back from a couple of questionable performances, certainly the first debate, and they now believe they've got the upper hand in the sprint to Election Day."
After Mary Beth Cahill of the Kerry campaign told Chris Wallace that she considered Mary Cheney's sexuality to be "fair game," Bill Kristol asked: "What has Mary Cheney done to make herself, quote, 'fair game,' for John Kerry to gratuitously introduce this in the debate? I wonder if Kerry is not going to have to apologize tomorrow."
Kondracke reiterated his earlier points: "Well, I think that the press ought to pay a lot of attention to this because John Edwards brought it up first, and it was utterly gratuitous the way he brought it up, and it was brought out of the weeds, you know, it wasn't an issue that anybody asked about. And both of these candidates did it in a purposeful way, and they must have done it for some tactical reason, and I don't think it was to appeal to the gay community to bring up Dick Cheney's daughter. I think, as I say, I think it's low dirty politics."
Moderator Schieffer's Questions Hit Candidates
from the Left
Moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News skewed the debate topics with a slate of questions tilted ideologically to the left. Of Schieffer's 20 questions, six came explicitly from the left, and that's not even counting three queries to Bush clearly intended to force him into expressing what the media define as unpopular views on divisive social policies: Whether he believes "homosexuality is a choice," whether he'd like to overturn Roe v Wade and what role "faith" plays in his "policy decisions?" While Schieffer hit Kerry from the left in three questions, he never once pressed Bush from the right though many conservatives are upset with Bush's massive education spending and creation of a new entitlement program. Compared to the six to nine questions from the left, Schieffer posed only three from the right, barely -- all to Kerry.
Schieffer challenged Kerry from the left on how he can keep his pledge, made at the last debate, to not raise taxes on those earning less than $200,000 "without running this country deeper into debt?" and he tossed up to Kerry this liberal talking points softball: "The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. More people are dropping into poverty. Yet the minimum wage has been stuck at, what, $5.15 an hour now for about seven years. Is it time to raise it?"
He scolded Bush for not doing more to enact a liberal policy: "You said that if Congress would vote to extend the ban on assault weapons, that you'd sign the legislation. But you did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?"
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth tracked down Schieffer's questions and I've divided them up into categories, with each numbered in the overall sequence they were posed.
-- Schieffer's three questions to Kerry from the left:
# 3rd: "Let's talk about economic security. You pledged during the last debate that you would not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 a year. But the price of everything is going up, and we all know it. Health care costs, as you all have talking about, is skyrocketing, the cost of the war. My question is: How can you or any President, whoever is elected next time, keep that pledge without running this country deeper into debt and passing on more of the bills that we're running up to our children?"
# 13th: "The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. More people are dropping into poverty. Yet the minimum wage has been stuck at, what, $5.15 an hour now for about seven years. Is it time to raise it?"
# 15th, regurgitating a Kerry campaign talking point back to him: "Senator, the last debate, President Bush said he did not favor a draft. You agreed with him. But our National Guard and Reserve forces are being severely strained because many of them are being held beyond their enlistments. Some of them say that it's a backdoor draft. Is there any relief that could be offered to these brave Americans and their families? If you became President, Senator Kerry, what would you do about this situation of holding National Guard and Reservists for these extended periods of time and these repeated call-ups that they're now facing?"
-- Schieffer's three questions to Bush from the left:
# 4th: "Mr. President, two minutes, and let's continue on jobs. You know there are all kind of statistics out there, but I want to bring it down to an individual. Mr. President, what do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?"
# 10th: "We all know that Social Security is running out of money, and it has to be fixed. You have proposed to fix it by letting people put some of the money collected to pay benefits into private saving accounts, but the critics are saying that's going to mean finding a trillion dollars over the next ten years to continue paying benefits as those accounts are being set up. So where do you get the money? Are you going to have to increase the deficit by that much over ten years?"
# 16th: "Mr. President, new question, two minutes. You said that if Congress would vote to extend the ban on assault weapons, that you'd sign the legislation. But you did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?"
-- Schieffer's three questions not explicitly from the left, but intended to put Bush in the uncomfortable position of expressing views which contravene the establishment media's definition of acceptable views:
# 6th: "Both of you are opposed to gay marriage, but to understand how you have come to that conclusion, I want to ask you a more basic question: Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?"
# 14th, demanding Bush respond to a Kerry point: "Mr. President, I want to go back to something Senator Kerry said earlier tonight and ask a followup of my own. He said, and this will be a new question to you, he said that you had never said whether you would like to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I'd ask you directly: Would you like to?"
# 18th: "You were asked before the invasion or after the invasion of Iraq if you'd checked with your dad, and I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority. I would like to ask you: What part does your faith play on your policy decisions?"
-- Schieffer's three questions to Kerry from the right:
# 5th: "You know, many experts say that a President really doesn't have much control over jobs. For example, if someone invents a machine that does the work of five people, that's progress. That's not the President's fault. So I ask you: Is it fair to blame the administration entirely for this loss of jobs?"
# 7th, a question which barely fits this category since Schieffer used liberal "right to choose" terminology and left it open-ended: "Senator Kerry, a new question for you. The New York Times reports that some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman's right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem cell research. What is your reaction to that?"
# 9th: "You have, as you have proposed and as the President has commented on tonight, proposed a massive plan to extend health care coverage to children. You're also talking about the government picking up a big part of the catastrophic bills that people get at the hospital. And you have said that you can pay for this by rolling back the President's tax cut on the upper two percent. You heard the President say earlier tonight that it's going to cost a whole lot more money than that. I'll just ask you where are you going to get the money?"
-- Schieffer's questions I categorized as neutral/ambiguous or not really classifiable on a left/right political scale:
# 1st, to Kerry: "Senator, I want to set the stage for this discussion by asking the question that I think hangs over all of our politics today and is probably on the minds of many people watching this debate tonight, and that is: Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?"
# 2nd, to Bush:: "We're talking about protecting ourselves from the unexpected, but the flu season is suddenly upon us. Flu kills thousands of people every year. Suddenly, we find ourselves with a severe shortage of flu vaccine. How did that happen?"
# 8th, to Bush: "Let's get back to economic issues. Health insurance costs have risen over 36 percent over the last four years, according to the Washington Post. We're paying more. We're getting less. I would like to ask you: Who bears responsibility for this? Is it the government? Is it the insurance companies? Is it the lawyers? Is it the doctors? Is it the administration?"
# 11th, to Kerry: "Let me just stay on Social Security with a new question for Senator Kerry because, Senator Kerry, you have just said you will not cut benefits. Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, says there's no way that Social Security can pay retirees what we have promised them unless we recalibrate. What he's suggesting, we're going to have to cut benefits or we're going to have to raise retirement age, we may have to take some other reform. But if you've just said you've promised no changes, does that mean you're just going to leave this as a problem, another problem for our children to solve?"
# 12th, to Bush: "I got more e-mail this week on this question than any other question, and it is about immigration. I'm told that at least 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know. Some believe it's an economic issue. Some see it as a human rights issue. How do you see it? And what do we need to do about it?"
# 17th, to Kerry: "Affirmative action: Do you see a need for affirmative action programs, or have we moved far enough along that we no longer need to use race and gender as a factor in school admissions, in federal and state contracts and so on?"
# 19th, to Kerry: "After 9/11, and this is a new question for you, it seemed to me that the country came together as I've never seen it come together since World War II, but some of that seems to have melted away. I think it's fair to say we've become pretty polarized, perhaps because of the political season. But if you were elected President or whoever is elected President, will you set a priority on trying to bring the nation back together? Or what would be your attitude on that?"
# 20th, to both: "We come, gentlemen, to our last question. And it occurred to me, as I came to this debate tonight, that the three of us share something. All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We are all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I'd like to ask each of you: What is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?"
"Top 10 President Bush Explanations for
the Bulge in His Jacket"
From the October 13 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten President Bush Explanations for the Bulge in His Jacket." Late Show home page: www.cbs.com
10. "It's connected to an earpiece so Cheney can feed me answers -- crap, I wasn't supposed to say that."
9. "It's a device that shocks me every time I mispronounce a word."
8. "Just a bunch of intelligence memos I haven't gotten around to reading yet."
7. "Mmm, delicious Muenster cheese."
6. "John Kerry initially voted for the bulge in my jacket, then voted against it."
5. "I'll tell you exactly what it is -- it's a clear sign this economy is moving again."
4. "Halliburton is drilling my back for oil."
3. "Oh like you've never cheated in a presidential debate."
2. "Accidentally took some of Governor Schwarzenegger's 'roids."
1. "If Kerry's gonna look like a horse, then I'm gonna look like a camel."
# Look for an afternoon edition of CyberAlert later today, from the day side team, with a rundown of the morning shows.
Until we do this again in 2008...
-- Brent Baker, with the overnight team of Geoff Dickens, Jessica Anderson and Brad Wilmouth
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