Political Hay

Cheney Meets His Match

If anyone won, it was Edwards.

By 10.6.04

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The right half of the commentariat, both on television and around the blogosphere, was in much better spirits following the Vice Presidential debate last night than they were after the first Presidential debate last Thursday. But Bush/Cheney supporters ought not get too excited. For one thing, even if it was a good night for Cheney, vice presidential debates don't make much difference. After Lloyd Bentsen's drubbing of Dan Quayle, which gave us the only VP debate line that anyone remembers ("you're no Jack Kennedy"), the ABC-Washington Post poll showed a 2-point bounce for the Democratic ticket in an electorate with a far bigger persuadable middle than the today's. (Just after the Democratic convention, the Gallup poll showed Dukakis with a 16-point lead; the election results were somewhat different.)

For another, it was at best a draw; if anyone won, it was Edwards.

ABC's snap poll of debate viewers showed that 43% thought Cheney won, compared to 35% for Edwards, but it seems that viewers were more likely to be Republicans: the sample was 38% Republican to 31% Democrat. Support actually shifts a point in the Democrats' favor in this poll. CBS's poll tracking 169 undecided viewers showed Edwards the winner by 41% to 29%, though given the huge margin of error -- +/-7 points for each of those numbers -- this might not mean much.

It's a bit mystifying what a low profile the Kerry campaign gave John Edwards between the Democratic convention and last night. There are few politicians who come across better on television, and Edwards had the charm on full blast last night. When the discussion got heated, Cheney looked a lot angrier than Edwards, which probably hurt him with a lot of viewers. And while Cheney had the better half of most arguments, Edwards succeeded at hammering away at his talking points -- he said "a long résumé does not equal good judgment" twice, and "Halliburton" came out of Edwards's mouth 7 times (Cheney's only parry was to refer viewers to "factcheck.com," which sends you to George Soros's anti-Bush site; he meant FactCheck.org).

Edwards also made repeated references to "the truth," implying that Cheney and Bush have a problem with it. This might stick, given that one of Cheney's most memorable zingers was demonstrably false:

Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you Senator Gone. You've got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate.

Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.

Lefty blogs had pictures of the two men together almost immediately, and mainstream news sites like ABC quickly followed suit. (Besides, is failing to show up for work that much of a negative for a congressman? I sometimes wish none of them would ever show up.)

Cheney did score his share of points -- "if they couldn't stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to Al Qaeda?" was my favorite. But did he win many votes for his ticket? It seems unlikely.

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John Tabin is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator online.