- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

Both sides came out of Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate claiming victory, though Democrats said they already expect the press — eager for an exciting election story — to declare President Bush the winner in tomorrow night’s second presidential debate.

“I bet you any amount of money that’s the story that’ll get written,” Mike McCurry, spokesman for Sen. John Kerry, told reporters yesterday. “Any takers?”

“The story line is so perfectly obvious, you know: Bush comes back, wins second debate, sets up the rubber game in Arizona,” he said, referring to next Wednesday’s event in Tempe, Ariz.

The Bush campaign, meanwhile, said Vice President Dick Cheney clearly beat Kerry running mate Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, in Tuesday’s often combative debate in Cleveland.

“John Edwards failed as a credible advocate for John Kerry, and Dick Cheney proved once again that substance will always trump campaign rhetoric,” said Marc Racicot, Bush campaign chairman. “The American people saw no evidence that John Kerry has any convictions, despite Edwards’ best attempts at political spin.”

But Democrats were just as quick to claim victory for Mr. Edwards, with Mr. McCurry saying the challenger wasn’t getting his due from pundits.

“Edwards did a great job last night, but you could just sense everybody was praying to sort of say, ‘We’ve got to get the Bush team back into this,’” he said.

Both campaigns pointed to polls to back up their claims of victory.

According to an ABC News poll taken of registered voters watching the debate, 43 percent said Mr. Cheney won, while 35 percent gave the edge to Mr. Edwards. A CBS News poll of undecided voters gave Mr. Edwards the win with 41 percent over Mr. Cheney’s 28 percent.

Both vice-presidential candidates left Cleveland yesterday for campaign events in Florida, whose electoral votes determined the outcome of the 2000 election and could do the same in next month’s.

Traveling in West Palm Beach, Fla., Mr. Edwards told supporters that Tuesday’s debate proved “we have a vice president and a president who still struggle with the truth.”

For evidence, he pointed to Mr. Cheney’s assertion during the debate that he’d never before met Mr. Edwards, since the first-term senator from North Carolina has spent so much time traveling the country in pursuit of higher office and so little time working in Washington.

Mr. Edwards said he’s met the vice president several times before Tuesday night and the campaign issued a photograph showing the two men standing near one another.

Mr. Cheney’s daughter Liz suggested after the debate that Mr. Edwards apparently didn’t leave much of an impression upon her father.

“He clearly didn’t know that he’d met John Edwards before. And I think that says a lot about John Edwards’ sort of lack of influence in Washington,” she told ABC’s “Nightline” program.

Mr. Edwards said yesterday: “I’ll tell you one thing I’m pretty sure of: He won’t forget we were there last night.”

As for tomorrow night’s presidential debate, the Bush campaign reminded reporters that Mr. Kerry proved himself in the first showdown to be “the greatest debater since Cicero.”

Mr. Kerry prepared for the debate — a “town-hall” event in St. Louis with audience members contributing questions — by rehearsing yesterday at a hotel in Englewood, Colo., while Mr. Bush campaigned in Pennsylvania.

More than 60 million people watched the first debate last week, but Mr. McCurry said he expects fewer television viewers this week, so news coverage of the second debate may be more important in shaping voters’ opinions.

“Given your choice of going to a good Friday-night high school football game versus watching this debate, what would you choose?” he said.

• Stephen Dinan reported from Englewood, Colo., and Charles Hurt reported from West Palm Beach, Fla.

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