Press Calls Veep Debate a Crackling Clash at Close Quarters

By: E&P Staff

USA Today called it “polite but tense.” Tom Raum of The Associated Press said it was “crackling” and likened it to a “clash at close quarters.” The Washington Post said the two candidates “clashed,” while Knight Ridder claimed they “wrestled.” The Scripps Howard News Service simply termed it a “draw.”

Early overnight press reaction on newspaper Web sites concerning the first and only vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards agreed that it was a highly revealing and far from one-sided struggle.

“The debate format encouraged give-and-take, and neither the vice president nor Sen. John Kerry’s running mate shrunk from the task,” Raum wrote.

Richard Stevenson and Robin Toner of The New York Times called it “a highly contentious and personal matchup. … The atmosphere from the start was chilly. … From the first moments of the debate, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Edwards clashed sharply and directly on Iraq, with the vice president portraying the war there ‘the right thing to do’ and the senator calling it ‘a mess, and it’s getting worse.'”

A “scientific” survey by ABC News gave Cheney a slight edge, but a similar poll by CBS News of undecided voters found Edwards the winner by a wide margin. Unscientific polls at numerous news sites found Edwards the clear victor.

Bloggers, of course, were active, declaring a smashing victory for one candidate or the other. Keith Olbermann at the MSNBC site scored the fight, boxing style, and gave Cheney the slight edge but only if his comment about never meeting Edwards before (to prove he was often absent from the Senate) held up. Sure enough, within an hour of the end of the debate, a photo of the two candidates meeting in 2001 was circulating on the Web, with the Atrios and Daily Kos blogs leading the way.

USA Today observed: “In contrast to the presidential debate, where Kerry appeared to be the aggressor, Cheney pushed an attack early on of Kerry’s long Senate record. Edwards repeatedly was forced to defend the Democratic nominee, reducing his opportunities to criticize President Bush. But as the debate wore on and moved to domestic issues, the senator appeared to be more successful in raising questions of his own.”

Offering instant analysis at The New York Times’ Web site throughout the debate was Katharine Q. Seelye. At the end, she typed: “Both were disciplined. Mainly, this debate showed what Cheney must have been holding back when he debated good ol’ Joe Lieberman four years ago: Cheney is a slasher. Cheney also seemed better prepared, in some ways, than Edwards, at least in terms of bringing up the other side’s records, votes and quotes, even if not always accurately. While he certainly had command of the issues on the domestic front, he had virtually no passion.

“Edwards was the more engaging debater and personality. He laid out his arguments with the precision and logic that you would expect from a star litigator but also managed to smile and appear less rehearsed.”

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