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Thursday, 12 October, 2000, 12:29 GMT
Bush's fresh confidence
Gore and supporters
Mr Bush secures himself further TV coverage after the debate
George W Bush went into Wednesday's US presidential debate with a fresh confidence. He and his rival Al Gore clashed on foreign policy, race crimes and the environment, but the Texas governor had the better of many exchanges, closing the stature gap with the vice-president.

AL Gore
Al Gore often looked down at his notes
Mr Gore apologised for past exaggerations and appeared to be trying to shed his image of being smart and arrogant.

But, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted immediately after the second televised verbal joust, 49% of registered voters who watched the debate said Mr Bush came out top, while 36% thought Mr Gore did a better job.

Verbal shortcomings

The New York Times on Thursday dismissed the flash poll, saying neither candidate managed to dispel doubts harboured by undecided voters about their character.

But, as the Times concluded, sufficient numbers of voters are uncertain about the measure of these two men to keep the race unpredictable.

With such a tight race and so little time left for voters to choose, the pressure was on both White House rivals to prise open a significant lead in the polls.

This was the second head-to-head and appeared to be a more subdued meeting than the first, after which Vice-President Gore was left struggling to deal with claims he had exaggerated facts.

Then there were his audible sighs of exasperation at Mr Bush's answers.

This time, commentators say Mr Gore sought to appear warmer and less aggressive, while Mr Bush took a swing at the vice-president's perceived tendency to exaggerate and made fun of his own verbal shortcomings.

George W Bush
Mr Bush's humour could well win voters over
One expert in body language, Kevin Hogan, author of Talk Your Way to the Top, predicted Mr Bush's performance would nudge him ahead in the opinion polls in an extremely tight race.

Mr Hogan said the relaxed, chat-show style format, as opposed to the previous more formal podium-style debate, appeared to work in Mr Bush's favour.

"He looked much more comfortable, while Al Gore looked substantially less comfortable," Mr Hogan told the BBC.

He said Mr Gore had lost points. His attempts to came across as gentler and quieter than last time had played into the hands of Mr Bush, who is widely seen to be weaker on the issues.

Humour

And, while Mr Gore had a defeated look in his face and constantly looked down at his notes, Mr Bush confidently tried to maintain eye contact with his rival.

Mr Hogan also predicted that the Texan governor had opened a credibility lead over Mr Gore despite both their public apologies: Mr Gore acknowledged he had exaggerated facts, while Mr Bush apologised for his verbal gaffes.

"In terms of the apologies, this also played to Bush," Mr Hogan said.


I got some details wrong. I'm sorry about that and I'm going to try to do better

Al Gore
"While Al Gore is a better debater, with more experience in, say, foreign policy, Mr Bush made light of himself and had a smile on his face."

Some potential voters concur. The BBC's Washington correspondent, Rob Watson, watched the debate with a number of first-time voters.

Steve, a university student and undecided voter, gave Mr Bush the edge based on his closing statements.

"Humour is a very effective form of communication," he said. "It can draw people to your side and Mr Bush did a good job of poking fun of himself. He also mentioned the key issues and closed the debate with the sense that he could be president."

The third televised debate will be on 17 October, and, as far as opinion polls go, there is little to choose between the rivals. The final meeting is likely to take on even greater significance.

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See also:

12 Oct 00 | Americas
Debating the online way
10 Oct 00 | Americas
Gore v Bush: Now it's personal
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White lies may cost Gore
05 Sep 00 | Election news
Why Bushisms matter
04 Oct 00 | Americas
Al Gore 'wins' TV debate
04 Oct 00 | Americas
Gore and Bush lock horns
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