The same political pundits who proclaimed Sen. John Kerry the winner of the first presidential debate last night gave the nod to Vice President Dick Cheney, saying he had bested Sen. John Edwards in their debate by clearly illustrating the large stature gap between the two vice-presidential candidates.
“I think Dick Cheney did awfully well in putting John Edwards in his place, saying, ‘Well, I’ve been presiding over the Senate, and I didn’t meet you until tonight,’” said NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, recalling the vice president’s most memorable line of the night.
“Talking about his not being on the job was pretty devastating,” she said, referring to Mr. Cheney’s repeated hits on Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry for missing important Senate votes as they campaigned.
When Ron Reagan, son of the former president, who spoke at the Democratic convention, said on MSNBC that he didn’t see a clear winner, anchor Chris Matthews and several other panelists chimed in: “Speak for yourself.”
Mr. Matthews upbraided Mr. Reagan, saying, “You didn’t see a clear winner. I think others did.”
He mused that although most in the studio saw Mr. Cheney as the victor. “Will it be apparent enough for the New York Times to mention at the top of the fold tomorrow? Will the liberal press admit that Cheney won?”
An ABC flash poll minutes after the vice-presidential debate, in which the two candidates went toe-to-toe for 90 minutes, gave Mr. Cheney the win, 43 percent to 35 percent, with 19 percent undecided.
Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster, conducted a focus group last night with 20 swing voters, but said none of them changed their minds after watching the debate.
“Edwards won on style, but Cheney won on substance. And this is a substance election this time.”
Mr. Luntz said there was one significant effect of last night’s debate: “This will stop the Bush slide in its tracks.” The president has lost a few points in national polls after most political pundits said he lost the first debate to Mr. Kerry.
“I can tell you, Wolf, the conservatives that were decidedly unhappy with George Bush last week were happier with Dick Cheney,” CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield told anchor Wolf Blitzer minutes after the debate.
“This really tees up the town meeting in St. Louis on Friday as the key moment,” Mr. Greenfield said of the next presidential debate between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry.
ABC, however, said Mr. Edwards had clearly held his own against Mr. Cheney, despite what many analysts said was a clear “stature gap” between the one-term North Carolina senator and Mr. Cheney, who has worked for four presidents and served twice as long in Congress as his vice-presidential opponent.
“Anybody who thought that Senator Edwards was going to be rolled by the experienced vice president I think will have a second thought,” said anchor Peter Jennings.
But Brit Hume of Fox News said the avuncular Mr. Cheney responded calmly to onslaughts from the North Carolina senator and, unlike Mr. Bush, did not look “particularly peevish” during his opponent’s answers.
Said Fox panelist Fred Barnes: “He looked like a man in charge.”
Mort Kondrake of Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, said Mr. Edwards “looked so young by comparison that it was like a dog yapping at a grown-up’s heels.”
Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard said Mr. Cheney accomplished far more in the vice-presidential debate than Mr. Bush did in his first meeting with Mr. Kerry.
“The main thing out of this debate is that Dick Cheney put John Kerry’s Senate record on national security and defense right back on the table,” he said.
Dick Morris, a former pollster for President Clinton, also called the debate for Mr. Cheney.
“Confronted with Dick Cheney’s obvious competence, incisive parries to his charges, and devastating rebuttal of his phony statistics, Edwards looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights,” Mr. Morris writes in today’s New York Post.
“If Edwards acted like a lawyer, Cheney acted like a judge. The Democrat proposed, but the vice president disposed. There was no doubt as to who was in charge,” he said.
But Mr. Morris also said the vice-presidential debate sets up the next presidential meeting because “Cheney gave the answers Bush should have offered but failed to articulate.” Still, he concluded: “Dick Cheney helped Bush get well from a poor performance. Edwards made it look like the Democratic ticket was outclassed and outgunned.”