“If you don’t want to focus on your own record, you focus on the other guy’s,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican consultant in Washington. “He really doesn’t have much of a choice, does he?”
Bush’s challenge was to stop Kerry’s momentum, which began with a poor first debate that erased Bush’s lead in the polls. There was no reason to believe that the final debate changed the campaign dynamics, said analysts and voters alike.
“I’ve become more and more disturbed about Bush,” said John Barker, 73, of Tampa, Fla., who voted for Bush in 2000, sweated over this year’s election for months and finally decided Wednesday night to back Kerry.
“I just don’t think with everything we’re facing, we can have another four years. I’m talking about the economy. I’m talking about Iraq (news – web sites). Bush just didn’t give me a good reason for the way things are,” Barker said. “He gave me plenty of reasons to vote against Kerry. But why should I vote for him again?”
In the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 511 debate watchers, Kerry was seen as the winner by 52 percent to 39 percent.
Bryan French, 21, a biomedical science major at Marquette University, agreed that Kerry won the debate but he wasn’t swayed. “I think Kerry spoke better. But I still support Bush.”
Fabrizio and others gave Bush credit for firmly defending himself in the third and final presidential debate. A Democratic consultant, Dane Strother, called the faceoff a draw â€” with Bush forcing Kerry into awkward territory on social issues.
Allan Ramsey, 67, an uncommitted voter from Hedgesville, W. Va., said he was more likely after the debate to vote for Kerry, though he was unimpressed with the show.
“I’m just glad this was the last one,” Ramsey said. “I’m tired of the same old squabbling.”
Indeed, there was plenty of that.
The debate opened with both men assuring voters that the post-Sept. 11 world could be safe again â€” if he wins Nov. 2, that is.
Kerry tried turned a question about flu vaccinations into a long indictment on Bush’s health care policies. “This president has turned his back on the wellness of America,” he said.
Bush countered: “I want to remind people listening tonight that a plan is not a litany of complaints” and he called Kerry’s health care plan “an empty promise.”
The president repeatedly tried to convinced voters that Kerry exaggerates, dissembles and can’t be trusted to keep his promises or protect the peoples’ money. New programs? “Guess who ends up paying the tax gap? The middle class.”
Kerry hammered Bush for the loss of more than 800,000 jobs during his presidency and the rising deficit. “Being lectured by President Bush about fiscal responsibility is like Tony Soprano talking about law and order,” Kerry said.
Bush answered Kerry’s dig with a cold stare â€” then a small smile as he reached for his glass and took a sip of water. But he managed to withhold the scowls and fidgeting that marred the first debate.
Bush punched back. “There’s a mainstream in American politics,’ he told Kerry “and you’re sitting on the far left bank.”
As if to answer Bush’s out-of-the mainstream argument, Kerry couched his answers to the next two questions â€” on abortion and gay rights â€” in gauzy, conservative language.
“We’re all God’s children,” he said to begin a lengthy answer on gay rights. Mindful that one-fourth of voters are Catholic, Kerry embraced his religion but noted that he opposes the Vatican (news – web sites) on abortion. “I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith …,” he said. Does that mean he’s personally opposed to abortion? Kerry didn’t make it clear.
“I think I’m leaning toward Kerry now because he says he’s a Catholic and doesn’t believe in all of the church’s beliefs, like me,” said Marcia Vinick, an uncommitted voter from Scotia, N.Y., and a Catholic.
She favored Bush before the series of three debates began.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ron Fournier has covered presidential politics since 1993.
This one really takes the cake. I wonder if Fournier is a de facto staff member at ABC honor bound to obey the Halperin memo, which he must have just now received and thought it applied to the third debate instead of the second one. I can’t believe this. Fournier even gets Republicans to say how bad Bush did tonight and former Bush supporters who are now disgruntled. This couldn’t be more slanted. And the flash poll shows Kerry the winner? Well, at least this time most pundits don’t agree. After reading this article I think I’m going to have to reconsider my position on the First Amendment after all and turn into a censor, like liberals today. Just kidding. But this article really is deplorable.