updated 10/15/2004 2:23:01 PM ET 2004-10-15T18:23:01

John Kerry clearly outperformed George Bush in last night’s debate in Miami, Florida.

As I said to Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s 'After Hours' show late last evening, every once in a great while in presidential politics an event occurs where even the spinners can not blur the obvious. Last night’s debate was such an event.

John Kerry clearly did better than George Bush, and clearly won last night’s debate. No matter what the spinmiesters say, that fact will be clear as new polls come out showing that the race has tightened— as I expect they will show.

Kerry accomplished a lot last night, not the least of which was silencing doubters and second- guessers in his own party, who have been criticizing his campaign in recent weeks. Instead, with last night’s performance, the party faithful have been energized for the final push towards election day.  No small feat in the fractious Democratic Party.

Kerry also began the process of reframing the debate to the terrain that offers the best chance of victory.  It is a contest between “more of the same” from George Bush vs. “the new direction” of the Kerry campaign.   This is important with so many Americans convinced that the nation is headed in the wrong direction.

But before anyone reads too much into the potential impact of last night’s debate on the outcome of the election now just 30 days away, remember we have seen this movie before: In 1984, pundits and voters alike viewed former Vice President Walter Mondale the surprise winner of his first debate with President Ronald Reagan.   Reagan was re-elected in a landslide. I remember this like it was yesterday (I was on the Vice President’s campaign staff at the time).

As recently as the 2000 Presidential campaign, many felt Al Gore bested George Bush in the first debate.  But George Bush is the sitting President today despite Gore’s performance in that one.

With a vice presidential debate and two more presidential debates still to come—  and 30 days of hard fought campaigning left before Election Day— anything can happen.  

What John Kerry really accomplished last night was a fighting chance to win in November.  

The best evidence that George Bush had won the debate last night would have been a chorus from pundits and the faithful that the race was over, that he had finished John Kerry off.  

Not even the President’s staunchest supporters are declaring that.

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Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's former campaign manager, is an MSNBC contributor and a political analyst for "Hardball with Chris Matthews."  He's contributes to Hardball's weblog, and is author of "The Revolution Will Not be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything."


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