JIM LEHRER: Here now with Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
JIM LEHRER: David, how would you characterize the debate? Summarize it for us.
DAVID BROOKS: A couple of buddies sharing a beer, sharing a few jokes. It was a tense debate. Edwards came out right from the get-go and said you're not being straight with the American people. They really went at it. I thought a couple of them landed blows or each of them landed blows several times. I didn't see either of them stagger particularly.
The one thing I learned from this debate that Iraq is the essential issue of this election. When they were talking about Iraq, it was crackling. When they drifted off to the domestic issues I thought they went back into sort of normal patterns and some of the energy seemed to go out of it. So to me it was a debate where they both got people in the various halls where their faithful are sitting riled up. Neither of them gave an inch. I said this about the last debate and I was wrong. But I'm going to say it again. I don't think it changed the dynamic of the race.
JIM LEHRER: Your overview, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Two different debates. John Edwards first one-on-one debate, it had been billed that way, absolutely no nervousness. Came out right from the start and was aggressive. And Dick Cheney, I think, the vice president was really knocked back on his heels -- didn't come back until about the third question when he raised the question about John Kerry's votes and voting record and votes on defense matters. This was supposed to be where Cheney dominated. He didn't. He did not dominate on the discussion of that part of the debate. And I thought Edwards did exceptionally well considering it was his first debate.
I didn't think the dynamic of the race changed or the dynamic... I don't think the dynamic of the race was changed by the Kerry-Bush debate. I think the dynamic of the press coverage was changed more than anything else -- that Kerry went from the loser to the underdog. I think this certainly didn't interrupt the momentum of Kerry. I thought the second half of the debate, the energy left. It was interesting, if you read the copy, Jim, it was interesting copy, what they said about each other, what they said. But the tension, the suspense, the real feeling of drama had subsided at that point.
JIM LEHRER: David, going into this, we talked about it ourselves earlier on the NewsHour that John Edwards' mission tonight was to keep the, quote, Kennedy... Kerry momentum going. Did he in fact do that?
DAVID BROOKS: I think one of the important effects of the first debate was lifting Democratic spirits -- Kerry's supporters spirits. I think he did that tonight. There were several moments where he had one-liners. And if there had been a crowd in the room they would have gone crazy, at least the Democratic part of the crowd. So I think to that extent he kept things going.
And there was the danger that he would appear light next to Cheney. I thought there were some points when Cheney was talking about Zarqawi where he seemed like a man who had been in charge and really had a depth of experience that maybe Edwards couldn't match. Nonetheless I would not say Edwards looked, well, frankly Quayle-like. He did not at any point you couldn't point to and replay over and over and over again on TV, there was no moment where he would appear obviously unfit.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I do agree. I thought one of the things that Edwards did that was interesting to me and I had no idea he was going to do this - was he anticipated what - where Cheney was going to go after him, on his congressional record. And he brought up Cheney's congressional record in voting against plastic guns, voting against Head Start. And then the flip-flops because he knew that was coming -- he listed the flip flops of the administration first on 9/11 and returned to that several times.
So I thought in that sense that the tactics of Edwards in the debate made sense. I mean, the vice president, they insisted in the negotiations that he sit down at a table to do this. I think it certainly worked for them. But I don't think Edwards appeared to be greatly disadvantaged by that setting.
JIM LEHRER: All right.