Cheney-Edwards Debate Morning After Roundup

The little bit of commentary I’ve heard on the debate so far confirms my analysis last night: Cheney won the debate but Edwards did reasonably well given the experience gap. The early polls are mixed, although my guess is they won’t have much impact with a Bush speech tonight and the second round of the Bush-Kerry debates Friday.

Quick excerpts of the early polls, print pundit, and blogospheric reaction below:

Uncommitteds Tab Edwards Winner (CBS News)

John Edwards continued the Democratic ticket’s winning streak in Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate. He was judged the winner — at least among uncommitted voters who watched the debate, just as John Kerry was last week. Immediately after the debate, CBS News interviewed a nationally representative sample of 178 debate watchers assembled by Knowledge Networks who were “uncommitted voters” — voters who are either undecided about who to vote for or who have a preference but say they could still change their minds. Forty-one percent of these uncommitted debate watchers said Edwards won the debate tonight. Twenty-eight percent said Cheney won. Thirty-one percent thought it was a tie.

I’m a bit dubious of a poll of 178 people and, indeed, wonder how it can be “representative” of much of anything.

A Debate Win: Cheney Gains With Help From His Friends
(Gary Langer and Dalia Sussman, ABC)

Dick Cheney prevailed in the vice presidential debate with help from a more Republican audience — and more support from his ticket’s side than John Edwards got from his.
Among registered voters who watched the debate, 43 percent said Cheney won, 35 percent called Edwards the winner and 19 percent called it a tie. One factor is that more Republicans tuned in — 38 percent of viewers were Republicans, 31 percent Democrats, the rest independents. But Cheney also did better with his side’s backers. Among supporters of the Republican ticket, 80 percent called Cheney the winner. Among supporters of the Kerry/Edwards ticket, fewer, 69 percent, called Edwards the winner, and more called it a tie.

As is usually the case, the debate did not immediately change minds among those who watched. Viewers were divided by 51 percent-48 percent for Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards before the debate, and by 50 percent-49 percent after it, an insignificant change. Note, these preferences are among debate viewers only, not among all registered or likely voters.

The early professional pundit/editorial page reaction was mixed, with most giving a slight nod to Cheney.

The Washington Post editorial page doesn’t declare a winner but provides a reasonable analysis of the blow-by-blow, concluding

If this debate mattered in part because Mr. Cheney has been such an integral part of the Bush team, it was also important as a proving ground for his relatively inexperienced opponent. Mr. Edwards has served not quite one term in the Senate, and he has spent much of that time running for higher office. Mr. Cheney was as cutting as a school principal lecturing a delinquent student on the subject of Mr. Edwards’s Senate “attendance record.” But if the question was whether he has the grounding to assume the presidency if need be, Mr. Edwards delivered a solid performance on both foreign and domestic policy last night. He sought to turn the experience question around by saying, “Mr. Vice President, I don’t think the country can take four more years of this kind of experience.”

Debates are partly about momentum, and if Democratic nominee John F. Kerry was on the upswing after last week’s debate, nothing that happened last night is likely to stop that. If they are also partly about highlighting differences, this debate would have to be judged a success: In style and substance, the vice presidential candidates were about as distinct as two contenders could be.

RCP’s Tom Bevan cuts to the chase:

Bottom line: Cheney dominated. Actually, I thought John Edwards acquitted himself pretty well last night – and he still got killed. Cheney was in total command during the first half of the debate – which was really the only part that mattered – and he pounded on John Kerry’s record from every possible angle.

Fred Barnes:

IF IT’S POSSIBLE for a vice presidential debate to matter, last night’s duel between Dick Cheney and John Edwards did. Why? Because Vice President Cheney did two things that might help President Bush. He attacked Bush’s presidential opponent John Kerry effectively on the war on terrorism and Iraq–something Bush failed to do in his first debate with Kerry. And Cheney put Kerry’s dovish record on national security over two decades as a senator firmly on the table as a campaign issue. Edwards’s effort to thwart Cheney was unavailing.


Cheney had the trenchant sound bites. “You cannot use tough talk during the course of a 90-minute debate in a presidential campaign to obscure a 30-year record in the United States Senate,” Cheney said. “I’m saying specifically that I don’t believe [Kerry] has the qualities we need in a commander in chief because I don’t think, based on his record, that he would pursue the kind of aggressive policies that need to be pursued if we’re going to defeat these terrorists.”

The vice president didn’t let up. He said Kerry “doesn’t display the qualities of somebody who had conviction.” Both Kerry and Edwards “voted to commit the troops” in Iraq, then voted against the funding to supply and arm them, Cheney said. “I couldn’t figure out why that happened initially. And then I looked and figured out that . . . Howard Dean was making major progress in the Democratic primaries . . . based on his antiwar record. So they, in effect, decided they would cast an antiwar vote and they voted against the troops.” Then came the killer quote from Cheney: “Now if they couldn’t stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?” Edwards’s response was lame, and he never regained his footing so long as national security was being discussed. Cheney looked like he concluded that Edwards could do neither him nor Bush any real harm.

David Korn:

Vice presidential picks haven’t mattered in the past. And vice presidential debates haven’t mattered. Neither will this one. Dick Cheney and John Edwards each argued the case well for their man, probably better than George W. Bush and John Kerry did for themselves five nights earlier. They scored points and blocked attacks, reinforcing each campaign’s major talking points of the moment. For Cheney it was, Kerry is weak on national security and too inconsistent to be an effective commander-in chief at a time of war. For Edwards, it was, Bush and Cheney have not told Americans the truth about the war in Iraq and the ongoing mess there, and we have a plan to do better in Iraq and at home. But neither succeeded in their attempts to knock the other out of the ring. Edwards went after Halliburton, but Cheney was hardly defensive about his old company. And he did not come across as a dark, behind-the- scenes force. Cheney accused Edwards of amassing a do-nothing record in the Senate, yet Edwards demonstrated he was as well-versed on the issues as Cheney and denied Republicans the chance to shout about a stature gap between the two.

David Winston:

JOHN Edwards’ impersonation of an attack dog in last night’s debate was a little like watching a yapping terrier taking on an old Golden retriever. Dick Cheney was calm, collected, thoughtful and incapable of being ruffled. Edwards had his talking points down pat. He came out of the box with a tough attack on Cheney, claiming, “You are still not being straight with the American people” on the question of Iraq. That was just his opening act. He followed with 90 minutes of harsh attacks in which he questioned the judgment, integrity and truthfulness of both Cheney and President Bush. He lived up to his reputation as a silver-tongued trial lawyer — but, in the end, he simply couldn’t close the stature gap with personal attacks.

Dick Morris:

LAST night John Edwards went from seeming to be like JFK to emulating Dan Quayle in the space of 90 minutes. Confronted with Dick Cheney’s obvious competence, incisive parries to his charges and devastating rebuttal of his phony statistics, Edwards looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights.

Normally, vice presidential debates are not significant. But this confrontation should serve President Bush well. With Edwards parroting Sen. John Kerry’s line in last week’s presidential debate, Cheney gave the answers Bush should have offered but failed to articulate. If the first presidential debate was a contrast of Bush’s substance and Kerry’s style, the vice-presidential debate gave Cheney a chance to emphasize the president’s positions and Kerry’s contradictions without tripping over his own words.

Cheney looked like a man and Edwards looked like a boy. On the attack, the North Carolina senator to this observer seemed, surprisingly, to be a shallow lightweight, almost transparent in his absence of heft and gravitas. Cheney looked like the authority, the wise one, the arbiter of facts and statistics.

William Saletan:

Now are you sorry you didn’t nominate this guy for president? That’s what I wanted to ask Democrats as I watched John Edwards knock Dick Cheney around the ring tonight. If the Iowa caucuses had been held two days later, Edwards might have beaten John Kerry there and won the nomination. Democrats might have been spared months of caveat-riddled circumlocutions that helped sour swing voters on their presidential nominee. We might have heard a clear Democratic message.

Phil Boaz:

Dick Cheney won this debate not because he made John Edwards look like a playful puppy, though he did. He won because he drove a sword into the man who wasn’t there – John Kerry.

The Democrats are going to lose this election because Americans don’t trust them to manage national defense. Cheney ruthlessly reinforced that historic predilection. In other times, the vice president might have seemed a cold fish, too sober and stiff to connect with the American people. But in an age of car bombings and beheadings, he stands the supremely serious man. These are times such men are prized. We don’t want varsity lettermen with Colgate smiles. We want hard, tough, seasoned leaders who will methodically destroy the people who would kill us.

Some blogospheric reactions:

Matt Yglesias:

It seems from the reactions on the rightwing blogs that everyone agrees Cheney would make a better leader than Bush. But what does it say about Bush if Edwards and Cheney are about even, Kerry is better than Edwards, and Cheney is better than Bush? Nothing good.

Stephen Green:

I think Cheney won tonight – but he didn’t mop the floor with Edwards, or clean his clock, whup his hide, yank his chain, ream his butt, smoke his Honda, ennoble his leprechaun – whatever.

Kevin Aylward disagrees:

Put it in the books, while Edwards was not horrible, Cheney mopped the floor with him.

Steve Bainbridge thinks Cheney wimped out by not slamming Edwards’ career as an ambulance chaser when he had the shot.

Jeff Jarvis thought Edwards won last night but isn’t so sure this morning.

Dan Drezner:

I suspect Cheney will be perceived in the instant polling to have won the debate. Just as the right has tried to demonize Kerry, the left has tried to demonize Cheney. The fact that Cheney comes across as sober and plain-spoken clashes with the stereotype.

Kevin Drum:

You know what? I wasn’t all that impressed with either guy. After about the first 30 minutes the energy level dropped a lot and neither one of them seemed very crisp.


I simply can’t comprehend how anyone could think Cheney won any part of that debate. I don’t get it.

His possible explanation? People are idiots.

Steven Taylor:

Cheney came across as having far more information than Edwards with a clear, calm command of the facts. Edwards did a good job, but his answers came across as a mix of serious policy, pure politics, and pre-prepared attack points. Edwards was much more of an attack dog than was Cheney.

Below is a transcript roundup, in the hope that at least one of these will still work a few weeks from now.

Full Transcript of the Debate Between the Vice Presidential Candidates in Cleveland (NYT) [no RSS]

Transcript: Vice Presidential Debate Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio October 5, 2004 (WaPo)

Transcript of the Oct. 5 Cheney-Edwards debate (MSNBC)

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Spoons says:

    Just to clarify so everyone doesn’t hate me: I’m not saying that people are idiots for thinking Cheney won. I’m saying people are idiots, therefore Edwards won, because he gave a more idiot-friendly performance.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Spoons: My way is funnier.

  3. Robert Hughes says:

    I watched the Cheney-Edwards debate from the UK.
    What came across to me more than anything was that Cheney steadily built up an impression of reassurance, and yes, that did contrast with Edwards, who was of course undoubtedly slick.
    The “security moms” are said to be the deciders of the election, and probably will be. They will have watched Cheney and concluded that here was a guy who could be president and have them feeling their families were safe.
    I haven’t yet seen anyone pick up on Edwards’ breaking of the rules towards the end. The question contained a trap and he walked into it. Having mentioned his running mate’s name once, and flippantly dimissed it, he did the same thing again only seconds later! This pointed to a sloppy intellect, which his polished and populist delivery had hitherto not revealed, and a cavalier attitude to rules. (How will that play with the security moms?) This was a good example of how the unexpected can be significant in this kind of event. He was thrown off his game for a vital few minutes of the late part of the show, and the final impression was that Cheney was actually rather a decent old guy with a good mind and a command of his brief. He was even a bit Reaganesque. America would be safe if he had to succeed as President in an emergency.