There were no flip-flops by supporters of President George W. Bush or Sen. John Kerry who watched Thursday night's presidential debate and offered reactions at the Brainerd Dispatch office.
No one's mind was changed by the debate but none of the observers thought the televised confrontation produced any dramatic moments.
Agreeing to critique the debate for the Dispatch were Bush supporters Rod Thoe and Keith Riedel and Kerry supporters Luann Rice and Neil Hunt. The Dispatch also sought out undecided voters but the only respondent who described himself as undecided had a last-minute conflict and couldn't participate.
Thoe predicted the news media would concentrate on the flip-flop issue, analyzing whether Bush was able to tag Kerry with that label or whether the senator successfully was able to repel it. Overall, he thought both candidates did well.
Thoe thought Bush stumbled a little bit and appeared nervous while discussing nuclear proliferation and North Korea but said the president scored points when he said the only respect in which Kerry was consistent was his inconsistency. Bush was at his best when he explained that he understood the stakes of the war on terrorism.
Kerry's high point, Thoe said, was when he talked about Bush's family. In that instance, Kerry came off as a real person. The worst aspect of Kerry's performance, Thoe said was the dozen or so times he made references to the United States working with other nations.
"He's always after getting other nations' approval," he said.
Hunt said he thought both candidates did a good job. He maintained Kerry was stately and did a lot to negate his image as a waffler. He said Bush repeated the same points over and over.
The debate strengthened Hunt's favorable impression of Kerry, saying that he had been dubious of Kerry's welcoming of corporate power into government. While the Democratic Party, in his mind, is the party of big business, the Republican Party is even more so.
Kerry, Hunt concluded, is the best candidate running and strikes him as a strong leader.
Bush is a likable guy, Hunt said, but Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials concern him.
Keith Riedel said the debate offered no big surprises.
Bush struck him as a leader who was strong and unwavering. His impression of Kerry was less favorable.
"I think I had some real concerns about his ability to be commander-in-chief," Riedel said. "I have real concerns about changing leaders in the middle of a war."
As a veteran of the Army and of the National Guard, Riedel said that not everything goes as planned during an armed conflict.
Riedel described Bush as strong, decisive and determined. In instances where Bush hesitated Riedel attributed the pauses to the president thinking before he spoke, which he said was an admirable trait.
Riedel gave points to Kerry for looking presidential.
"If you set his politics aside, he's got the look, the demeanor," he said.
Kerry was criticized by Riedel for not offering specifics about what he would do differently than Bush.
Rice thought Kerry came across as a thoughtful, intelligent leader who would work with U.S. allies. She said Bush's high point was that he never wavered in his views.
Both candidates emphasized the dangers of nuclear proliferation, she said, when asked to pinpoint a possible sound bite that might be remembered.
She couldn't think of a low point for Kerry.
"I was a little fearful he might look weak and he didn't," she said.
Bush's low point, in her mind, was that he repeated many of his points.
"I was very impressed with the way Kerry presented himself," she said. "I thought he was very presidential."
MIKE O'ROURKE can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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