JIM LEHRER: Now what Republican and Democrat partisans are saying about all of this and to Margaret Warner for that.
MARGARET WARNER: And that comes... we get that partisan reaction, that is, from Republican Peter Robinson. He was a speech writer for President Reagan and then Vice President George H. W. Bush, and he's now a fellow at the Hoover Institution; and Democrat Maria Echaveste who was deputy chief of staff in the Clinton administration and in this election cycle served as an advisor to Howard Dean's campaign.
Maria Echaveste, how well did each man do at the number one job in this kind of debate which is to both boost and defend the top of his ticket?
MARIA ECHAVESTE: Well, I think first off every time Vice President Cheney kept trying to keep the focus on terrorism, Sen. Edwards was very clear in saying the issue is Iraq and the misjudgments that have put us there and as someone said earlier the issue for this election is the conduct of the war in Iraq and the incredible misjudgments that have been made. And so in that sense Edwards did what he needed to do. I think that Cheney had nothing but... had to go back to the record and basically keep stating in the face of the facts that the war is going well in Iraq when everyone knows it's not.
MARGARET WARNER: Peter Robinson first your take on who got the better of the war on terror and Iraq sort of dichotomy.
PETER ROBINSON: I'd score that to Cheney perhaps seven rounds out of nine. The first couple of questions Edwards came out very hard and very fast and in a very energetic manner. And I do think Cheney was slow to kind of pick up steam. But once he did that's exactly what he was like, a battleship or a steamer. No visible motion but slowly there was an immense momentum there and slowly it seemed to me that he pulled ahead.
After the presidential debate, no one would have doubted George W. Bush's conviction and determination. The question for the faithful but also I believe for undecided voters about the president was: What about competence? Do these people know what they're doing? And Cheney's command of the facts, the figures, the detailed history of the war on terror spoke to that question. His loyalty to the president, that Cheney would have no doubt that George W. Bush is the man also spoke to that question. So it seems to me that Cheney did a tremendous service for Bush tonight.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you see the way Cheney handled this question of competence and the managing of the war on in Iraq.
MARIA ECHAVESTE: Well, because he focused so much on the long experience I think Edwards has the best one-liner which is a long resume does not equal good judgment. And that is a theme that you're going to keep hearing because that is in fact the record. And Sen. Edwards was able to consistently point out that being consistent when you've made wrong decisions is not good enough for the American people.
MARGARET WARNER: Peter Robinson, how well did... who got the best of the debate over the flip- flopping, the whole question of changing one's mind -- the charge has been made against Kerry. But of course we heard John Edwards and in fact Gwen Ifill say you could level it against both.
PETER ROBINSON: Right. Incidentally I thought Gwen Ifill did a very good job. She was very fair and even-handed in the questioning, pushing them both. In my judgment who got the best of the flip flop once again Cheney. Edwards had some positions or items on which the administration had changed position but they weren't unified; they didn't -- Head Start, 9/11 Commission. What's the unifying theme here?
On Cheney, the flip flops were all on the war on terror. And that devastating line if they couldn't stand up to the pressure that Howard Dean brought to bear on them, on Kerry and on Edwards in the primaries, how could they stand up to the pressure of al-Qaida? I just think that summed up the notion of inconsistency and a lack of a kind of inner core of conviction on the war on terror.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think Edwards dealt with that adequately?
MARIA ECHAVESTE: I think he did. I think the fundamental thing is that Sen. Edwards and John Kerry have a plan. And what Cheney kept retreating back was we're going on the right track; let's stay with more of the same. And I think the American people are going to choose that actually we need a change because the direction that this is going on, we can all see that it is not the right direction. And constantly saying we're right when the facts are otherwise is not sufficient for the American people.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you, Maria Echaveste and Peter Robinson. Jim.