The debate on Tuesday night surprised me. First of all, I was expecting a much, much more vicious exchange, and was disappointed in the timidity especially of Edwards, who was much too sunshiny in the face of Cheney’s skillful cheapshots (especially on Edwards’ record of Senate attendance).
Cheney was absolutely CRUSHING Edwards for the first 30 minutes of the debate. Edwards for this period spent most of his time making very empty, very general statements unworthy of his viewers. He started coming back during the last ten or fifteen minutes of the foreign policy debate though, and I really think he started scoring once they reached questions about domestic issues.
This completely surprised me. Based on Thursday’s debate, I thought it likely that Edwards, if anything, would be able to fiercely attack Bush & Cheney’s record in Iraq. It was disheartening to see Edwards give little of substance in opposition to Cheney’s explanations of the administration’s actions.
For the last forty-five minutes of the debate, I think Edwards did on average better. Of special note should be that Cheney chose to forego his option of giving 30-second responses <b><i>at least three times</i></b>. Edwards was especially strong in his criticism of Bush’s attempt to pass an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage, and Cheney incredibly weak in his defense. That one issue was probably the turning point of the debate where Edwards was able to put Cheney on the defensive.
Cheney was well-composed, gave the impression of being well-informed, and certainly did a much better job of debating that Bush did last weak. Edwards, while he recovered somewhat in the second half of the debate, was something of a disappoitment. I was hoping for very forceful attacks on the administration, and he offered little of that.
On average, I would say that the debate was a draw, but perhaps if pushed would lean towards choosing Edwards as victor, given that close attention shows how he forced Cheney to forego indefensible positions on issues several times. Cheney managed to keep his loss of those particular arguments fairly low-key, though, so I don’t think his lack of responses garnered the negative attention they should have.