I watched the debates last night, with a big bowl of popcorn. I thought both candidates were well prepared and didn't make any major mistakes, but I thought that Al Gore came off much better than did George W. Bush. Gore seemed slightly more presidential, and was able to quote figures (however distorted) to back up what he had to say. Bush was put on the defensive quite a bit, and tried to get away from the specifics of his plan, and focus on wanting to give people choices, rather than have the government make the decisions for the people. I thought that Gore missed a golden opportunity when Bush was talking about RU-486, he kept saying "Surely, we can blah blah blah" and "Surely, the FDA, blah blah blah" he said Surely about five times in that speech. When Gore got to speak, I thought he should have started in with "First of all, my name is Al, not Shirley" ";->" Bush's quips seemed far too staged and prepared to really have much impact, and he seemed to go to them when he didn't have anything else to say. Lloyd Bentsen's "you're no JFK" remark to Quayle, and Reagan's "There he goes again!" came off as much more natural. Gore seemed to stay away from prepared barbs, but his One Dollar for Every Two lecture left my head spinning a little bit. My take on it? Gore won, Bush didn't come across as a moron, which may have helped him with some people, but Gore's performance was excellent, and he came across as more prepared, more intelligent, and classier, after choosing not to respond to Bush's attacks.

So what's next? My prediction is that Gore will go up a couple of points in the polls, maybe open up a 5 or 6 point lead on Bush. Look for Bush to go on the attack more in the next debate, if he's down 7 points, it's his only chance. He'll play up the character issue a lot, because it's all he's really got to use on Gore. Their stances on most of the issues are so similar, it's only their methods of solving problems that are slightly different. What difference does it really make how often you want to test the students to hold the schools accountable? Any plan these guys come up with will be radically different after it goes through both houses of Congress.

Update: John says that the debate was a tie. Gallup says Gore won.