Our guest columnist today rejoices in the moniker Lion of Yonibana. RJH's friend since Econ 101, he writes from South Carolina.

Two sports metaphors came to my mind after watching the first of the three American presidential debates. The analogies are not perfect, but they give a good explanation of the debate and its outcomes. The first comes from American football and the second, boxing.

In football, the quarterback is clearly the most celebrated position, with the incumbent perhaps receiving too much credit when things are going well and too much blame otherwise. But more relevant to my analysis is the fact that the backup QB is always the most popular guy in town when the team is not winning. I believe John Kerry'’s debate performance has made him the de facto backup QB on a team - Team USA - that is not on a winning streak in Iraq, the war on terror nor the economy. Until the debate he had only de jure status in the minds of most voters, including many in his own party. His performance may now result in more people to asking for him to be given an opportunity to lead the team.

There are two ways in which the first presidential debate resembled boxing. Firstly, when the bell rings in boxing, there is nowhere to hide; it is just two people, mano-a-mano, out to deliver as many crippling punches as possible; there are no handlers; the contestants must venture away from script; and they must react to unforeseen circumstances. Secondly, when a challenger and reigning champion meet in a boxing match, the champion almost always initially has the grace of the judges. He is given more room for error and the opponent must deliver a knockout blow or several series of highly damaging blows to wrest away the crown.

In my mind, the President was clearly hit damaging blows. But I would never question the heart of a head of state, whatever one may think of his policies. The President still has a reservoir of courage and strength from which to draw; he knows he has a fight on his hands and will come out swinging in St. Louis this Friday.

Equally, it would be wrong to underestimate the damaging capacity of hubris on the part of a challenger. It is natural to protect a lead, and Kerry, it has been said, has a history of gloating and overconfidence. If he is to win the match and not just a few rounds, he must put the afterglow of the first debate behind him and focus on how he can take some of the tactics of a winning performance in Miami into the final two rounds.

One of the lessons of Miami is that the candidates must ignore the press clippings and polls about where their strengths, and those of their parties, traditionally lie - for example, domestic policy for John Kerry and the Democrats, and foreign policy for President Bush and the Republicans. We saw John Kerry carve out a stake on foreign policy in Miami. But President Bush can surely counter the blow with a great showing in St. Louis - to be set in his preferred "town-hall" format - on domestic issues. It would be an interesting irony if the candidates and parties were vanquished in the subject areas traditionally considered to be their fiefs.

While it is late in the campaign itself, it is only the first quarter - or early rounds - in terms of the debates. There is still a lot to play for in Missouri and Arizona. But the first debate surely has greatly increased voter interest and will influence the final outcome.

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