- The first head-to-head clash between George Bush and
John Kerry left America's crucial constituency of undecided voters broadly
agreeing that the Democrat had won - but still far from unanimous that
they wanted him as president.
- In swing states across the country yesterday, voters
who have yet to make up their minds told the Guardian that President Bush's
long pauses and irritated facial expressions had contrasted poorly with
his opponent's poise. Some, however, said they still found Mr Kerry unclear
when it came to his views on Iraq.
- "Kerry won," conceded James Scalzo, 61, a retired
defence contractor from Michigan and a registered Republican who voted
for Mr Bush in 2000. "It was a question of style. He came across as
more relaxed, more in control - Bush seemed a little agitated; a little
nervous. But I'm really not too enthused by either candidate. I guess I
still dislike Kerry more than I do Bush."
- As Democratic campaigners hurried to prepare material
to exploit footage of the president's reactions, Sharon Trenoweth, a registered
independent from New Hampshire, felt she had seen those facial expressions
somewhere before. "You know when you're little and your dad says,
'Do it because I said so.' [Bush] was like that: 'I know what I'm talking
about, I'm the boss, and that's that.'"
- Mr Kerry might have seemed aloof, "but we don't
necessarily have to have a buddy. We want someone who's intelligent. Kerry
didn't get me excited before, and he still doesn't, but now I think he's
the best option," said Ms Trenoweth, who used to work in the defence
industry and now paints New England folk art for a living.
- She was glued to the debate "like the Superbowl",
she said. The sporting comparison was reflected in the deluge of instant
- A CNN survey of viewers found that 57% felt Mr Kerry
performed better, with 37% favouring Mr Bush. But while 60% thought the
Democrat expressed himself more clearly - a blow for Republican efforts
to portray him as a "flip-flopper" - 54% still felt the incumbent
would be the tougher leader if re-elected.
- In Miami, where the debate took place on Thursday night,
Nory Acosta, 24, a law student, was one of many undecideds who preferred
Mr Kerry's style but remained in the Bush camp on the Iraq issue. "Maybe
his answers didn't come as quickly as they might have come, but I think
at this point there really isn't much choice but to carry on - otherwise
it might pose a problem in terms of the impression in the rest of the world,"
- Her concern for projecting a consistent international
image mirrored a point Mr Bush made repeatedly in the debate. "I know
we're not going to achieve our objective if we send mixed signals to our
troops, our friends, the Iraqi citizens," he said.
- But the president also found support among swing voters
who thought the rest of the world's views should not matter. "George
W Bush is the president of the United States, and to me, the United States
should come first, rather than the world," said Vaughn Hoovler, 36,
the owner of a metal-pressing company in Mansfield, Ohio, and a rare example
of an undecided voter who called the debate for the president.
- "I thought George did a wonderful job," said
Mr Hoovler. "I was confident he knew where he was at, and what he
had to do to move forward. Yeah, he looked angry, but he was clear and
to the point."
- However, Mr Kerry's insistence on taking an internationalist
approach to US foreign policy found widespread support, even among those
leaning towards Mr Bush. "He vacillates back and forth [on Iraq],
but I think he's right in that regard," said Mr Scalzo, while Ms Acosta
- though declaring herself more sympathetic to the incumbent - said she
"did actually agree with Kerry on that point".
- In the debate, Mr Kerry had condemned Mr Bush for failing
even to hold "the kind of statesmanlike summits that pull people together
... In fact, he's done the opposite - he pushed them away".
- Mr Kerry's task will be to turn the good impression he
left on Thursday night into a conviction on the part of undecided voters
that his specific policy proposals are superior. For Therese Safford, an
employee of the Great Lakes Tribal Council in Wisconsin, he seemed to be
well on the way. "Kerry sounds like he has a plan. I'm sure the president
has a plan, too," she added, wryly, "but he didn't seem to know
what the plan was". The Iraq war only took place, she suspected, "because
he felt he needed to finish the unfinished business left by his father."
- Mr Bush's curious use of language drew mockery from one
influential corner of cable television, the Daily Show on Comedy Central,
which is watched by many young adults. The president's assertion that "we
are facing a group of folks who have such hatred in their hearts, they'll
strike anywhere" made al-Qaida sound more like a harmless gathering
of diners at an Italian restaurant, observed the presenter Jon Stewart.
- "We're facing a group of folks? A group of folks
is what you run into at the Olive Garden," he said.
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