A victory for Gore?

Instant polls say yes. The presidential candidates' running mates cheer the squabble from a distance while the cops keep Nader out.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published October 4, 2000 8:21PM (EDT)

The fur flew Tuesday night in the first debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Though neither one scored a knockout, instant polls gave the advantage to Gore. According to CBS News, Gore clobbered Bush, with 56 percent of viewers rating the vice president a winner, compared with 42 percent who said that of Bush. The poll has a four-point margin of error. Those surveyed by CNN believed the contest was closer, giving the advantage to Gore by 48 to 41 percent, with a four-point margin of error. ABC viewers scored the debate as a virtual draw, with the vice president edging Bush 42 to 39 percent, and 13 percent calling the match a tie.

Chock-full of policy
With a few notable exceptions, the debate stuck to the issues, if not to the high road. The Washington Post reports that Bush and Gore sparred over the minutiae of their tax cut plans, Social Security reform packages and philosophy on Supreme Court picks. While Gore frequently repeated that the bulk of Bush's tax cuts would go to the wealthiest Americans, and Bush insisted more than once that Gore was using "fuzzy math" in his attacks, there was no standout moment or punch line from either side. Gore's most consistent stylistic slip-ups were his editorial eye rolls and heavy sighs. At one point, Bush lived up to his reputation as a foreign policy novice and incorrectly implied that the Russian government supports America's position on the recent election in Serbia.

Lies, damn lies and presidential debates
In their enthusiasm to touch the hearts of the American people, both candidates engaged in a little creative arithmetic and fuzzy thinking, according to ABC News. In the opening exchange, the vice president denied that he had ever questioned whether Bush had sufficient experience to run the White House. But in March, Gore said that the scope of Bush's tax cut plan "raises a serious question: Does Governor Bush have the experience to be president?" While Bush accused Gore of making mistakes in math, the governor's statement that "all seniors will be covered" under his prescription drug plan was incorrect -- his proposal only covers seniors making up to 135 percent of the poverty level. Other less-than-truthful answers included Bush's dodge of his position on the RU-486 abortion pill and Gore's memory of inspecting fire-ravaged lands in Texas in 1998; Gore was there, but it was for a Democratic Party function.

Somewhere out there
With all their mistakes being uncovered the morning after, Bush and Gore must be grateful that they have people in their lives to offer them unconditional love. Those friendly forces are scattered, however. USA Today reports that Dick Cheney cheered his boss from Ohio, where the veep hopeful is preparing for his own debate. Though two of Bush's siblings -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and sister Dorothy Koch -- attended the event in Boston, his parents stayed away. While former President Bush watched from the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush's mother, Barbara, decided to skip the debate altogether and watch a movie instead. Joseph Lieberman also caught Gore's performance on the boob tube, as did the fan in chief, though President Clinton couldn't promise that he would be able to see the whole event. He was occupied Tuesday night with fundraising engagements in Florida, but did take some time out to watch in his hotel room.

Stop that man!
The Green Party's Ralph Nader couldn't make it to the debate either, but it wasn't for lack of trying, the Associated Press reports. The Commission on Presidential Debates blocked Nader's entry to the event, even though he had a valid ticket. "It's already been decided that whether or not you have a ticket, you are not welcome in the debate," John Bezeris, a representative of the CPD, told Nader. The consumer rights crusader, who was threatened with arrest for trying to get in, wasn't happy about that. Neither were thousands of protesters assembled outside the debate venue. The Boston Herald reports that while most of the demonstrators were peaceful, the police did make 16 arrests. Apparently, they were prepared to do a lot more, as a police helicopter, bomb-sniffing dogs and 220 state troopers were assigned to patrol the protest.

On the trail
Bush: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Buchanan: Massachusetts and New York.
Gore: Massachusetts, Ohio and New Jersey.
Nader: Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Gore 46 to Bush 40 (Reuters/MSNBC Sept. 30-Oct. 2).
  • Gore 46 to Bush 44 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 30-Oct. 2).
  • Gore 48 to Bush 46 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 28-Oct. 1).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 39 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 27-Oct. 1).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 44 (Newsweek Sept. 27-29).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 42 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 30-Oct. 2).
  • Nader 5 to Buchanan 1, Browne 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Sept. 30-Oct. 2).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 28-Oct. 1).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 27-Oct. 1).
  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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