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Experts Say No Clear Winner in Cheney-Edwards Debate  - 2004-10-06

Most political experts seem to think there was no clear winner in Tuesday's debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards. Both Republicans and Democrats found something to be happy about during the 90-minute encounter in Cleveland.

With the focus in the presidential campaign squarely on Iraq, Vice President Cheney used Tuesday's debate to defend the administration's decision to oust Saddam Hussein from power.

"What we did in Iraq was exactly the right thing to do," he said. "If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the right, same course of action. The world is far safer today because Saddam Hussein is in jail. His government is no longer in power and we did exactly the right thing."

For Democratic candidate John Edwards, the debate provided an opportunity to renew criticism of the president's handling of Iraq and to show that he could hold his own in a debate with his more experienced Republican rival.

"Mr. Vice President, you are still not being straight with the American people," said Mr. Edwards. "I mean, the reality you and George Bush continue to tell people, first, that things are going well in Iraq. The American people do not need us to explain this to them. They see it on their television every single day."

After the debate, both sides found something to be happy about.

Republicans were encouraged by Vice President Cheney's attacks on what he says are Senator Kerry's changing positions on Iraq.

Some experts believe President Bush will try to repeat Mr. Cheney's assertive approach in his second debate with Senator Kerry on Friday in St. Louis.

"I think that as Vice President Cheney showed, you can attack the positions of the opposition without being personal," said John White, professor of politics at Catholic University in Washington. "So some may think that the president will follow Cheney's lead on Friday night."

Democrats contend that Senator Edwards came across as more likable in the debate and did not back away from challenging the vice president.

"Then I think that the Kerry-Edwards ticket came out a little bit better simply because Edwards essentially showed that he could go toe to toe with the vice president," said Professor John White of Catholic University. "I think this a sharp contrast to four years ago when Vice President Cheney won his debate with [Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Joseph] Senator Lieberman decisively."

Two polls taken right after the debate by U.S. television networks showed a split decision on who won the debate. One survey favored Vice President Cheney while the other showed an advantage for Senator Edwards.

Other experts predict the president will talk more about Iraq in his final two debates with Senator Kerry in an effort to calm public concern about the situation there.

Craig Crawford, who analyzes U.S. politics for Congressional Quarterly magazine, spoke on CBS television.

"This is making a dent in the president's [poll] numbers, even in some of the battleground [closely fought] states and they know that so they are trying to deal with it," he said.

Friday's debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry in St. Louis will feature what is known as a town-meeting style format where voters will get to ask the candidates questions.

Experts note that type of debate tends to be more unpredictable than the traditional format where a single moderator handles the questioning.