As the two presidential candidates head toward their second debate tonight, here's what we've learned about the first debate. Al Gore won on debate points; George W. Bush won on popularity points.
According to the polls, Americans figured Gore won the Oct. 3 debate "big time" - a six to 12 point margin. However, it was GOP nominee George W. Bush who picked up momentum, closing on Gore's four to eight point lead.
Voters, clearly, are serving notice that if the vice president is to win this election he'll have to do more than demonstrate his policy expertise and score debating points.
He's going to have to curb his tendencies to exaggerate and lie and to be boorish, condescending and rude. Many Americans are now thinking beyond Gore's experience or his stands on issues and asking whether he's the kind of man they want to visit their homes on TV for the next four years.
They are also concerned about why Gore lies, especially when there's no need to. Is that a forgivable personality idiosyncrasy or a serious character flaw?
Bush, however, certainly doesn't have it made. In the first debate, he established himself as a plausible alternative to Gore, but he didn't sell, or even successfully defend, some of his proposals.
If the Texan can't articulate better, his continued climb in the polls will have to depend on Gore's continuing "the ugly American" act. If Gore comes across in the next two debates as both knowledgable and amiable, the GOP nominee could find himself falling behind again, especially if he makes verbal boo-boos or can't intelligibly explain his issues.
One interesting weekend poll asked respondents who'd they prefer as president: a serial liar or a man who constantly mangled the language. Four percent preferred the liar; 84 percent the mangler.
Is this what the campaign is coming down to in the closing weeks? Voters choosing between a candidate who can't tell the truth and one who can't speak straight?