I'll just write a little because I'm sure other people will be writing a lot. First off, I scored the debate like a boxing match, giving each candidate a score for each exchange. According to my total, it came to 287 - 273 in President Bush's favor -- but admittedly, I'm biased. I counted approximately 30 camera shots that violated the debate rules. Senator Kerry mentioned or alluded to Vietnam 5 times, and mentioned or alluded to Ronald Reagan twice.
President Bush did a good job staying on message, but he stumbled a few times and hesitated over words a little too much. His best point was that John Kerry can't expect to get more allies on board in Iraq if he insists that it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. He could have pointed out, but didn't, that Germany and France have said they won't send troops no matter who wins the election, and that they don't have many quality troops to send, anyway, and that they were making money off Saddam. Bush also dodged a question about whether or not a 9/11-size terrorist attack would be more likely if Kerry gets elected. I thought the President handled the question about Kerry's character superbly and graciously. However, I had high expectations for Bush and he didn't live up to all of them.
Senator Kerry did better than I expected. I don't like most of his positions, but I think he did a good job presenting them. Kerry strikes me as a better extemporaneous speaker than rehearsed, and I was impressed by his speaking ability. Much of his presentation was flat and unemotional, but that doesn't generally bother me (and he wasn't Gore-like). He didn't contradict himself or blatantly flip-flop on anything, and he did a good job staying within the time limit. He dodged a few questions -- such as whether or not our solders in Iraq are dying for nothing -- but didn't seem obvious about it.
As for Jim Lehrer, I didn't like his performance much. He didn't ask any foreign policy questions that didn't relate to the War on Terror (except for the one on Darfur) -- nothing about trade, nothing about AIDS in Africa, nothing about relations with China, nothing about the European Union, nothing about South America, nothing about Mexico, nothing about the WTO or the IMF, nothing about Kerry's Senate record, and so forth. It got to the point where the candidates were just repeating themselves, and Bush even stopped himself once and pointed out that there wasn't much else he could say about North Korea that he hadn't said twice already. Most of the questions were about things Bush has done, and very few were about things that Kerry had ever done, which made it easy to criticise the President. Still, that's part of the territory with being the incumbent.
The rules weren't overly restricting, and everything went smoothly. If anyone ends up benefiting I think it'll be Kerry, because for me at least he exceeded expectations. One of the best debates I've seen.
I've been trying to figure out why I feel like Kerry had the edge even though I gave Bush a higher score, and I think I've got it. Bush got more points because he scored a few serious blows, whereas Kerry didn't. But Kerry's performance was smoother and more consistent.