Experts: Cheney, Edwards Strong in Own Way

Wednesday offered plenty of post-vice presidential debate spin as supporters of the Democratic and Republican candidates digested the discussion and built on the charges flung Tuesday night in the meeting between Vice President Dick Cheney and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

"I think there was a considerable stylistic difference that came through last night," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. "John was very strong and clear. He was crisp."

"Dick Cheney … has a lot of experience … he showed a lot of substance," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. "He’s ready if called upon to be president of the United States today."

Instant analysis after the vice presidential debate Tuesday night concluded that Cheney won the first half of the meeting, on foreign policy, while Edwards tipped the scales for Democrats on domestic issues.

The two candidates battled it out for more than an hour and a half in the first and only vice presidential debate of the 2004 race. Though largely civilized and somewhat dry, according to analysts, the debate at Case Western University (search) in Cleveland, Ohio, did provide a few zingers off which points were scored.

Cheney said Edwards and Sen. John Kerry went from supporting the war in Iraq to opposing it late last year when they each were losing in Democratic presidential primary polls to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search), who opposed action in Iraq.

"If they couldn't stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to Al Qaeda?" Cheney asked.

The vice president also suggested that Edwards was an absentee senator who didn't have much in the way of a voting record.

"Senator, you have a record in the Senate that is not very distinguished," said Cheney, who serves as president of the Senate and claims to be present for floor sessions most Tuesdays. Turning toward his opponent, Cheney added that Edwards has missed votes on so many issues that "the first time I ever met you was when I walked on the stage tonight."

Cheney noted that some from Edwards' home area have dubbed the North Carolina lawmaker as "Senator Gone."

After the debate, the Bush campaign acknowledged that Cheney erred when he said it was the first time the two met. Elizabeth Edwards approached the vice president after the debate and noted that Cheney and her husband had met at a prayer breakfast a year earlier. Cheney responded, "Oh yes, you're right."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe told FOX News on Wednesday that based on Cheney's claims about not meeting Edwards, "either this man had a very serious mental lapse of memory loss" or he is a flat-out liar.

Edwards was able to put Cheney back on his heels a little on Tuesday night. He accused Cheney of having a poor voting record while a congressman and said the vice president was not facing the harsh realities occurring in Iraq. Edwards pushed the line that Cheney has said a link exists between Iraq and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"One thing that's very clear is that a long resume does not equal good judgment," Edwards said.

Edwards also hit the vice president on his leadership of Halliburton (search), the energy services firm that has faced charges of favoritism for its extensive contracts to provide logistical support in Iraq.

"While he was CEO of Halliburton, they paid millions of dollars in fines for providing false information on their company, just like Enron and Ken Lay. They did business with Libya and Iran, two sworn enemies of the United States. They're now under investigation for having bribed foreign officials during that period of time," Edwards said.

"Not only that, they've gotten a $7.5 billion no-bid contract in Iraq, and instead of part of their money being withheld, which is the way it's normally done, because they're under investigation they've continued to get their money," he added.

"They make a mistake every time they say the war is costing $200 billion in Iraq. It's not. Vice President Cheney clearly cleared that up last night. The attacks on Halliburton are baseless and factually inaccurate," said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.

Spin Machines Start Up Quick

Both the Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards camps had down cold for the showdown their rapid-response systems in what's known as "Spin Alley," located outside the debate hall.

The Kerry-Edwards campaign dubbed their responses "Reality," while the Republican corner called theirs "Breaking Debate Fact."

About 10 to 15 minutes before the debate ended, the spin machines of each campaign went into high gear. Advocates and advisers on each side began bombarding reporters with their takes on the night. Among the Kerry supporters were Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. In Bush's corner were Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

"This is what we call taking out someone behind the woodshed. This is as clear a drubbing as you're going to see in a political debate," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who gave Cheney's performance a thumbs-up.

"John Edwards was in command of the facts and in command of the future. Mr. Cheney showed he is part of more of the same and part of the past," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Senior members of the campaigns also handed out their assessments. Democratic officials said the vice president wasn't straight with the American people and noted Cheney faced a much more aggressive opponent in Edwards than he did in Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman four years ago. They said Edwards had the facts and the form to show he is capable of being the No. 2 man in the United States, who can step in if called to the top post.

"John Edwards talks about the aspirations of the middle class in this country in a way that no one else can, and he has a very strong idea about what we have to do on health care, and I think that's what was very convincing tonight," Kerry-Edwards campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill (search) told FOX News.

"Frankly, I think Dick Cheney came across as sort of grumpy and mean," she added.

Republicans shook off what many had considered a loss by President Bush in last week's debate with Kerry, and said Cheney clearly demonstrated a knowledge and experience that Edwards couldn't touch.

"This was a big victory for us tonight and just goes to show that substance beats style every time," said chief Bush-Cheney campaign strategist Matthew Dowd.

"Senator Kerry's takes on Iraq throughout this campaign have been wholly predicated on whichever way the political winds were blowing. ... If you're going to switch depending on which political winds are moving you, that's not the kind of conviction we need in a commander in chief," said senior Cheney adviser Mary Matalin.

The campaigns were quick to tout the flash polls released by media outlets showing immediate public reaction to the debate. The Kerry-Edwards team promoted a CBS poll of 169 uncommitted debate watchers. The group decided 41-29 percent that Edwards won the debate. But the Bush-Cheney team had an ABC snap poll to fall back on. It showed 42 percent of viewers thought Cheney won compared to 35 percent for Edwards. Nineteen percent called it a draw.

Despite all the twisting and turning, not everyone was impressed by Tuesday night's exchanges.

"I thought Edwards at the beginning came out so aggressively, so fast, and he looked so young by comparison, that it looked like a dog yapping at a grown up's heels," said Roll Call Executive Editor Mort Kondracke. "And so they punched a few times ... and I guess that's the only excitement we got out of it.

"I think some viewers were tempted about midway to go watch the baseball game," Kondracke added, referring to the playoff game Tuesday night between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. The Twins won to pick up a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

Campaign analysts were mixed on whether the debate will have an impact on the campaign.

"Hard to see how many votes were moved tonight in a different direction," Washington Post correspondent and FOX News contributor Ceci Connelly said.

"One of the candidates, or maybe both, can help their presidential running mates. And if anybody helped his, it was Dick Cheney helping George Bush after Bush's poor performance last Thursday," said Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes.

"I think Cheney did some damage to the Kerry campaign tonight," said Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol.

Kristol added that he didn't think Cahill's assessment of Cheney's demeanor would hurt him.

"We need a grumpy and mean vice president ... I think 55 million Americans probably want a grumpy and mean vice president," he said. Nearly 106 million Americans voted in the last election.