POST DEBATE ANALYSIS: No Clear Winner Declared
While last night's debate "lacked a single defining moment or even a memorable confrontation," presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush managed to illustrate their "fundamental disagreement" -- government's role in society, the Los Angeles Times reports. Bush "aggressively insisted" that he would "shift power" from the federal government to "states and individuals," while Gore "relentlessly denounced" Bush's tax cut plan, stating that the "money would be better spent" on health care reforms and a Medicare prescription drug benefit (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/4). Although Bush "appeared nervous" at the beginning of the debate and Gore "frequently came across as more sure footed and in command of policy details," the Wall Street Journal reports that there "was no transcendental moment or blatant error that seemed likely to dramatically lift or impede the fortunes of either candidate" (Harwood/Cummings, Wall Street Journal, 10/4). The Los Angeles Times reports that the candidates had separate goals. Bush aimed to "demonstrate enough intellectual depth and command of issues" to overcome "doubts" about his ability to be president. On the other hand, Gore "strived to show himself a man of principle and conviction" (Barabak, Los Angeles Times, 10/4). Both candidates also had certain points "they were determined would sink in." During the first 60 minutes of the 90 minute debate, Gore "repeated seven times" that Bush would spend more on a tax cut than he would on new spending in health care, education and the military. For his part, Bush stated that if Gore's plan for a Medicare prescription drug benefit is "so great," then the Clinton-Gore administration should already have achieved it (Harris, Washington Post, 10/4).
Both candidates "tossed out lots of numbers" about their proposed policies, but "often their math was faulty or misleading," the Washington Post reports. For example, Gore "complained" that Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit would "force someone making at least $25,000 to wait four years for a drug benefit," while his tax cut would give "tax relief to the wealthy" in "the first year." But the Post reports that Bush's tax credit plan would be phased in over six years. Gore did, however, "accurately describe" Bush's prescription drug plan, which in the short term would provide relief for seniors making under $14,600 after they had spent $6,000 on medications out-of-pocket. Bush also has called for "a more fundamental restructuring of Medicare," under which the federal government would subsidize 25% of seniors' premiums for new private health care options. The math Gore offered for his plans "was more accurate, if you buy his budget numbers," the Post reports. Gore has said that every dollar of health care or education spending would be matched by one dollar in tax cuts and two dollars in debt reduction, but analysis from the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has determined that Gore "devotes five dollars on spending for every dollar in tax cuts" (Kessler/Connolly, Washington Post, 10/4). Bush does have "a point," in asserting that Gore's plans to extend Medicare solvency would build "up IOUs for future generations," the Baltimore Sun reports. Gore has proposed putting Medicare surpluses into a "lock box," but the Sun reports that "under federal rules, there can be no such thing" and that money would actually go toward reducing the debt. Gore instead would use interest payments saved from the debt and put those savings back into Medicare, "in effect shifting billions of dollars from general government revenues like income taxes into entitlement programs for the first time." With a "greatly diminished federal debt," the government then could start to borrow to pay for baby boomers' medical costs, sending the government back into debt, as Bush has asserted (Weisman, Baltimore Sun, 10/4).
And the Winner Is?
At the debate's conclusion, "viewers knew they weren't watching tweedledee and tweedledum," the Wall Street Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 10/4). Newsday columnist James Pinkerton, who worked in former President George Bush's administration, writes in the Los Angeles Times that Gore "clearly had a better handle" on the prescription drug issue (Pinkerton, Los Angeles Times, 10/4). But the "debate's importance loomed larger for Bush," the Washington Post reports (Harris, Washington Post, 10/4). Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times reports that the Texas governor "is likely to benefit from remaining cool in the face of Gore's unrelenting critique" (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/4). Pollster John Zogby said, "This is a draw, and anything that is a draw is good for Bush. Gore went in prior to this debate with heft. Bush went into this debate with charm. And what emerged from this debate was a Gore with some charm and a Bush with some heft. That heft leveled the playing field" (Lambro, Washington Times, 10/4). But results from a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll of 435 registered voters seem to favor Gore as the winner. According to the poll, 48% said Gore did better, while 41% said Bush did better. Twenty-five percent said that Gore did an "excellent job" and 51% said he did a "good job," compared to 20% who said Bush did an "excellent job" and 50% who said he did a "good job" (Norman, USA Today, 10/4).