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THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

The Play in the Swing States

October 03, 2004

The editorial pages in swing states across the country drew differing conclusions from Thursday's first presidential debate. Although many were neutral, in general more papers gave the edge to Kerry over Bush.

* St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"The disconcerting thing is that both candidates may be wrong about the ability to win against a growing insurgency. Some day we may look back at this election and despair that neither candidate had a realistic idea of what lies ahead in Iraq."

* Tampa [Fla.] Tribune

"You could argue that either man won. But there can be no doubt that voters were the real winners, because anyone who listened saw a reality Thursday night that campaign advertisements can never duplicate."

* St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times

"There were no memorable sound-bites, no knockout punches.... But the exchange was anything but boring. Finally, they said to each other's face what they've been saying on the campaign trail."

* Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"In this particular face-to-face, both candidates, we're certain, will be awarded 'points,' but Kerry clearly overcame his perceived biggest handicap, his seeming inability to loosen up and just plain connect."

* The Oregonian (Portland)

"No one clearly won last night's debate. On balance, it was more helpful to Kerry, who offered his most coherent statements on the war. Yet at the end of the debate, and of another awful day in Iraq, neither candidate had described how they would deliver security to Iraq, or bring American soldiers home."

* Arizona Republic (Phoenix)

"This newspaper has been supportive of Bush and much of his prosecution of the Iraq war, but it was clear to us the president was beaten decisively by his challenger in this 90-minute contest.... Historically, a single debate seldom produces dramatic swings in the polls. But Bush will need to face facts that he was badly bested in this contest."

* Las Vegas Review-Journal

"John Kerry needed to win the hearts and minds of voters in the heartland. Instead, he appeared smug as the incumbent concluded, 'I'll never turn over our security to foreign leaders.' "

* Des Moines Register

"Neither candidate committed a major gaffe that would hurt his candidacy, and neither landed any oratorical haymakers that will live forever in the annals of presidential debating."

* Detroit Free Press

"With recent polls showing that Kerry has lost some ground to Bush, the Massachusetts senator did not make great strides in the debate while Bush did what he does best -- make his basic points time and again. But Kerry certainly came off well enough to give undecided voters a reason to tune in when the two meet again Oct. 8 in St. Louis."

* The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

"Neither man landed a knockout blow. Neither man made an obviously damaging error. But the debate gave each the opportunity to drive home their central accusation against the other."

* The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"The president showed again how well he can stay on message. The night did little to puncture Bush's image as a determined leader in the war on terror."

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