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A strong debate for both candidates

Instant reaction from 'Hardball' panelists Andrea Mitchell,  Ron Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Jon Meacham, and Chris Matthews.

Everybody is sort in a mellow mood right now.  I think they have debated themselves out. 

Andrea Mitchell
I thought it was a very strong debate for both.  I think that John Kerry was strong on minimum wage, George Bush on taxes.  Kerry made his points about abortion, which is directed to primarily the female audience.  By invoking John Kennedy, I think he cleared up any confusion that might have existed about how he as a  Catholic he is dealing with this very complex issue. 

This is the thing that sounds like a style point, but I think it is important.  On at least the version we were watching in the split-screen, for some reason the television director tried to equalize the height of these two candidates.  And it made George Bush dominate the screen by making him larger in comparison to John Kerry.  It was very artificially directed, I have to tell you.  And I think it had an impact.  

Ron Reagan, the younger son of the late President Ronald Reagan arrives for NBC's Summer Press Tour party in Los Angeles, California July 12, 2004. Reagan will address the Democratic National Convention in Boston about stem cell research. Reagan, 46, has been critical of President George W. Bush's administration for its restriction of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research and on the war in Iraq. REUTERS/Jim RuymenJim Ruymen / X01224

Ron Reagan
John Kerry may win the day after for one particular reason.  And that is that George Bush made a mistake. Kerry quoted him accurately, as it turns out, saying "Hwas not really worried about Osama bin Laden." And Bush came back and said, "Well, I don't recall ever saying anything like that."  

Well, you'll see the clip of him saying exactly that tomorrow:  I am truly not worried about Osama bin Laden.  And you will see it contrast with his denial in that.  The same thing happened to Dick Cheney at the vice presidential debate.  It doesn't play too well.

Pat Buchanan
It was an excellent debate and an interesting debate.  Kerry was, I thought, very much at the top of his game.  And I thought toward the end, when you saw Kerry, you saw more of the humanity of the man in some of those questions, which was very helpful to him, talking about the daughters and things.  I thought he had some excellent moments.

What the president has that I find interesting is, he is impassioned.  He is energized.  And I thought, toward the end, I thought he was very moving in some of his answers.  He's not as basically articulate in a debater's way clearly as John Kerry is.  But, in a human way, I found him an immensely attractive candidate.  I think, clearly, if you go issue by issue, this fellow might have one on this one, this might have won on that.

I think in the overall, I wouldn‘t declare a winner.  I do think, as someone said, both sides I think are going to come away from this debate feeling that their guy was at the top of his game and did a wonderful job. 

Newsweek's Jon Meacham
Newsweek's Jon Meacham

And since we talked about Catholicism tonight, to paraphrase T.S.  Elliot, "We are back to where we began," a very closely divided race.  It is going to be completely I think at this point about turning out the bases on November 2.  We have 19 days from now.  I think it's very hard for me to see how undecided voters looking at this debate in particular could see this in anything but fairly Manichean terms.  I don‘t see any shades of gray here.