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Friday, October 01, 2004

Eleanor Clift On Kerry’s Win 

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Oct. 1 - George W. Bush didn’t look at his watch the way his father famously did during a presidential debate, but he might as well have. The president had the air of a man who couldn’t bother being there. Response shots aired by the networks captured his smirking dismay at his rival’s answers, much the way Al Gore sighed in disgust at Bush four years ago.

Republicans thought they had the race wrapped up. All their candidate had to do was repeat his road-tested slogans. But 90 minutes of Bush is a long time. There’s a reason why he has held fewer press conferences than any other modern president. He is incapable of conceptual thinking, and he came across as agitated and annoyed that more was expected of him now that he’s the self-styled “war president.” He repeatedly said he is “working hard” and “it’s hard work,” as though that alone should silence his critics.

If Republicans were overconfident going into the debate, Democrats had begun preparing themselves for defeat. Kerry had given up so much ground that he was close to being written out of the race. Voters had absorbed the image of Kerry as a flip-flopper without core convictions. A very different Kerry showed up in the debate hall. He was calm and disciplined while Bush was “slouching and praying for the light to go on so he wouldn’t have to think of anything else to repeat,” said a Democratic strategist.

Kerry spoke crisply and clearly, and he looked presidential. He defended his position on Iraq as consistent—agreeing with Bush that Saddam Hussein was a threat, but saying he would have handled the situation differently. When Bush confronted him with that old saw about how he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it, Kerry scored big, saying, “I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?”

This was Kerry’s best performance since, perhaps, ever. Like Lazarus, he is back from the dead.
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