John Kerry slammed President Bush Thursday for taking the United States into war in Iraq (search) without enough global support, while the commander in chief said he doesn't need a permission slip from the rest of the world to protect America and its interests.

In the first of three presidential debates that could greatly influence the outcome of what's expected to be a nail-biter election on Nov. 2, Bush also said the world was safer with Saddam Hussein gone and Kerry said the real focus should have been on Afghanistan.

Kerry vs. Bush: Rate the debate

A sample of your responses

The winner: Bush by an HONEST mile!
James H.
Beaverton, AL

One of the best debates I have seen. The sides were clearly drawn and this difference should help Bush further in the polls. Bush thinks America has the right to defend herself, and John Kerry does not. He believes, as he articulated last night that he would create international tests before we should defend ourselves. Permission not needed from the international folks to defend AMERICA not for this Security Mom of two kids under four!
Maria O.
Marlborough, MA

Let's be honest here. President Bush's handlers are trying to mop up the poor performance by claiming a draw. Come on! Kerry devastated Bush by all accounts. Kerry displayed a deft command of the issues, while pressing Bush on his untenable position on Iraq. Kerry was cool and confident. Not at all like the long-winded, "flip-flopper", stereotype'" portrayed by most media, notably your network. Bush smugly, but ineffectively, tried to portray this image upon Senator Kerry. When pressed on the hard issues, by that I mean non-character related questions, Bush could only play the tired, old lines  that he has repeated all along the trail. The President sounded like a broken record, often repeating the same message with different questions. To claim a draw, well, is like saying Iraq is a wonderful place and "democracy is on the march" in Russia.
Melanie
GA

The debate was well presented. I felt that I am finally getting to understand the candidates. I plan to keep a very close eye on this election.
Joanne D.
Washington, NC

Senator Kerry seemed more polished than I thought he would but President Bush seemed more in command of the facts. There were several occasions when President Bush had to correct the information being presented by Senator Kerry.
Terry B.
Hudson, FL

The "debate" didn't change my mind.  However, I thought that neither JK nor President Bush came out with a punch needed to change the minds of the "undecided".
Joan S.
East Manatee

Kerry won — I hoped there would be probing questions about our failed Mexican border policies; about "no-go" zones in Iraq like Fallujah; about releasing Gitmo detainees only to have to kill or capture them again. The people didn't learn much. We're still playing games.
Jan and Jim W.
Tampa, FL

I thought that once again John Kerry was talking AT the people, and President Bush was talking TO the people. It's really hard to tolerate those who lecture us on what we need.
Kurt F.
Bethlehem, PA

I agree with a bunch of Brits that watched the debate: When they were asked who won the debate they all said Kerry! When asked who will win the election they all said Bush!! Why, Kerry is a competent debater, Bush is a confident LEADER!
Bill P.
Ft. Walton Beach, FL

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