The Lion of Yonibana is back with a report on the St Louis debate.

To score the first half of the match up, or if you like, the middle rounds of the heavyweight bout for the American presidency between President George W Bush and Senator John F Kerry, a brief recap of the economic and political events in the week that ended on Friday October 8 2004 is required; as well as a recap of the outcome of the first debate in Miami. Do not forget, also, that we have framed our analysis of the debates using metaphors in the American football and boxing.

Three events preceding St. Louis offered opportunities and pitfalls for both men:

(1) the Department of Labor reported almost 100,000 new nonfarm jobs, a healthy figure, but short of both Bush administration forecasts and economists expectations, cementing the fact that the President will preside over a net job loss during his term, the first incumbent to do so in almost three-quarters of a century;

(2) Charles Duelfer, investigating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, concluded that sanctions had eliminated Saddam Hussein's WMD in Iraq, but that he retained the capability and intention to reconstitute the threat; and

(3) the former viceroy of Iraq, Paul Bremer, implicitly criticized the war in Iraq by saying the US did not have enough troops on the ground immediately after the fall of Baghdad. He did, however, later softened the blow with the declaration of unwavering support for the President's decision to invade.

I think it is fair to say that the most indelible image out of Miami was that of the challenger standing toe-to-toe with the President and offering a solid alternative to his policies. John Kerry finally made believers of his own crowd and actually forced many in the other or undecided camp to take a second look at him. Thus it was when we arrived in St. Louis.

The President was champing at the bit in St. Louis. Like most quarterbacks who find their jobs in jeopardy, he responded with fervor. Like most champions who are wounded by a blow, he came out with the intent to taking the fight to the challenger. He was more focused and forceful, had a point or counterpoint all evening, and took notes furiously. He clearly left the scowls in Miami and even offered a joke here and there. By the same token, I thought he was a bit edgy, overeager and bulldoggish. This was most evident with the use of the "liberal" label, reminiscent of 1988, when Bush Snr attacked Michael Dukakis throughout their contest with the same label. The key question for the President is this one: did he do enough to quiet the crowd and send the backup QB back to holding the clipboard?

As for John Kerry, his task was a bit simpler, albeit not simple. He had to make sure that the image that emerged in Miami was real. I thought Kerry kept up the pressure on the President and did not give him any significant opening. He continued to demonstrate his capability to analyze policy and offer solutions and did nothing to dissuade the crowd that he would be a capable commander-in-chief or backup QB if he is given the chance. Overall, he broke no significant new ground; but neither did he sit on his slight lead out of Miami. He did stumble a few times, none more notable than his answer to a question on abortion, which reinforced the perception that he is capable of taking both sides of an issue. For the challenger, the key question is this one: did he make the crowd believe that the Kerry they saw in Miami was real?

The first thought that came to my mind after watching the debate was this: did the thirty-two page agreement on the debate format include a formula to break a tie? I am sure there was none but I kept hoping they had one a la College football; continue in overtime - alternating possession - until a winner emerged.

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