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Third Debate: Bush's Lost Chance

Just saw CNN's snap (who won?) poll of the last presidential debate: Kerry 52%, Bush 39%. What's fascinating about this reaction is that (1) it cannot be attributed to Bush's demeanor, which was better in this debate than in either of the first two; (2) it doesn't reflect some slam-dunk, soundbite Kerry line that affected the immediate reaction, though the "Sopranos" line was pretty good; and (3) it indicated that Bush's "base-first" strategy isn't working. I personally expected Bush to go much more negative on Kerry that he ultimately did, though the structure and sequence of Schieffer's questions made that pretty hard. And when the light want off in his head, Bush did everything he could to label Kerry as a godless liberal. The bottom line is that it's difficult, as an incumbent president, to shift the attention totally away from one's own record. That's the bar that Gerald Ford failed to surmount in 1976, as did Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the president's father in 1992. If, as seems likely in the immediate reaction, Kerry has gone 3-0 in the presidential debates, the case for George W. Bush's re-election has gone from implausble to improbable, at the worst possible time for a vulnerable incumbent.
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