Reaction from the Bush and Kerry campaigns came quickly following Thursday's debate in Miami, Florida.
Supporters of President Bush and Senator Kerry wasted no time Thursday trying to convince the hundreds of journalists at the Presidential debate that their candidate came out on top in the first presidential debate of the 2004 campaign.
Even before the debate ended, they were making their case. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said President Bush showed U.S. voters that he understands the concerns many Americans feel about U.S. involvement in Iraq.
"I think where he demonstrated in a very personal way that he understands the consequences of war, that he understands the consequences of the decisions he makes, and then being very clear about a strategy for victory," said Mr. Bartlett. "And I think it is one of the big arguments that Kerry makes that President Bush does not understand the realities of what is happening in Iraq, and I think President Bush demonstrated he is the one that gets the casualty reports. He demonstrated you can be both realistic and optimistic about Iraq."
Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida says his Senate colleague John Kerry convinced American voters that there is an alternative to President Bush. "A lot of Americans who already decided to vote for President Bush withdrew that tonight and said 'I am going to give John Kerry another look.' That makes the next two debates, which will be on domestic issues where the President is dramatically less accepted by the American people that much more important," said Mr. Graham.
While both candidates differed strongly on U.S. policy toward North Korea, the U.S. commitment to international treaties, and even the level of commitment to end the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, the situation in Iraq dominated the debate. Political Scientist John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute says both men achieved their most important goal; not to make any mistakes.
"I think Senator Kerry was able to stand on a stage next to President Bush as an equal and show a manner and a character that was strong. He did not show the flip-flopping side that he has been accused of in the Bush commercials," noted Mr. Fortier. "On the positive side for President Bush, Bush was relentlessly on message as he typically is and made his points again and again that weakness and waffling in the world is not just a bad thing as a character issue, but it has consequences for allies and for the way our enemies perceive us."
Mr. Fortier says the fact that Iraq dominated a debate given over to multiple foreign policy issues is a sign that the Iraq issue has clearly emerged as the overwhelming concern of American voters this year.