The debate was too long -- a snooze. Lehrer's questions were largely inane. If I were running, I wouldn't want the press guys involved. I'd want a traditional one-on-one debate.
Substance. That said, on substance, Kerry really had nothing to say. He's still trying to straddle -- feeding the left the "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" line, while implying for the center that he'll be tougher than Bush, and saying he has "a Plan." What plan? A summit! With whom? Chirac and Schroder? Fat chance they will help us.
Of course, I'm old enough to remember Eisenhower's "I will go to Korea" bit, which was a meaningless promise that nevertheless helped him at the time.
W. was simplistic and missed chances to knock it out of the park, but he's not a nuclear-freeze, "global test," UN guy, either. Key point, and the voters know it anyway.
Both candidates made too much of the corrupt cartel of tyrants, the UN.
Delivery and demeanor. That said, Kerry helped himself on delivery, if only because he was articulate and showed gravitas without being quite so much a stiff as he usually seems. Although on policy grounds it's a nightmare, based on last night's performance, one could imagine him as (God forbid!) President.
Bush was repetitive and seemed tired and a bit lost. But I'm bicoastal enough to have consistently underestimated the man, whose quirks annoy me. I haven't got a feel for how this played in Peoria -- or more importantly, Toledo and Tampa. W. did stay on message, and unlike Kerry did show genuine feeling, for example, when he talked about his encounter with the war widow. Not as good at "feeling your pain" as Clinton, but genuine and effective. The seculars won't get the bit about his praying with her, but they're tone-deaf to religion in a way that most Americans are not.
Effect. The journalistic consensus seems to be that Kerry won on points, but it won't help him much. However, considering he's down 5-6 percentage points in the polls, a little boost will place him within the margin of error. At that point, events and chance could change things. Probably not, but it's possible.
Usually, in Presidential elections, my view is that neither of the candidates is very good, but either way, the Republic will survive. I'm not there in this one. Bush has major problems, but Kerry and his party are a menace to our very survival. Hence my prayer that the debate will pass as no more than a blip, and Americans just won't be able to stomach electing a Massachusetts liberal.
What we don't know is how much this oral quiz will be worth toward the final grade.