> Columns > Boston Globe > Little Change in Momentum
Little Change in Momentum
By Cathy Young | October 14, 2004
THE THIRD AND LAST DEBATE WAS CERTAINLY PRESIDENT BUSH'S BEST PERFORMANCE SO FAR IN THIS CAMPAIGN. HE WAS SELF-CONFIDENT, IN GOOD COMMAND OF BOTH HIS FACTS AND HIS LANGUAGE, AND AGGRESSIVE WITHOUT COMING ACROSS AS MEAN-SPIRITED.
However, Senator John Kerry was able to hold his own. In terms of style, both candidates performed well.
Curiously, while this debate was ostensibly focused on domestic issues, it shifted repeatedly toward foreign policy - which shows the extent to which domestic concerns these days are inseparable from international ones, especially the global terror threat.
One of those moments did some damage to both candidates, perhaps more to Kerry. Bush lambasted Kerry's recent statement that the terrorist threat could be reduced to a "nuisance." Instead of explaining himself and reiterating his pledge to go relentlessly after terrorists, Kerry shifted the focus to the Bush administration's failure to capture Osama bin Laden, reminding the audience of the president's "dead or alive" vow and of his later remark that he wasn't "that concerned" about bin Laden.
Bush denied this remark, which is on record. It was a modest hit for Kerry, but the effectiveness of the bin Laden card has worn off from overuse - and meanwhile, the "nuisance" gaffe was not neutralized.
However, Kerry did a fairly good job of containing the damage from his "global test" line in the first debate and scored additional points by complimenting the president on his performance immediately after Sept. 11.
Kerry spent a good part of the debate defending himself against Bush's effort to portray him as the ultimate tax-and-spend liberal, one who makes Ted Kennedy look conservative. To some extent, he was able to deflect that charge by asserting that he "supported or voted for tax cuts over 600 times" and broke with his party to balance the budget.
On the other hand, Bush offered an impressive list of the ways in which his tax cuts have helped average Americans.
The exchange on affirmative action was the biggest disappointment; Bush basically ducked the issue, while Kerry maintained the fiction that the quota-like aspects of affirmative action programs were "mended" under Clinton.
Had Bush floundered in the last debate, his campaign would have been in serious trouble. Lastnight's performance - either a draw or a modest victory for the president - may do little to change the momentum of the campaign - though at the very least, it is sure to reinvigorate his supporters.