President George W. Bush became an object of scorn and near-pity eight years ago for some voters watching his first debate with Democratic challenger John F. Kerry.
Sitting amid a group of 100 swing voters who assembled to watch the debate at a college auditorium in Pennsylvania, I heard some laugh. Others shook their heads in dismay, as the president smirked or stammered and groped for words — particularly as he tried to defend the troublesome war in Iraq.
The crowd had been given portable dial-rating devices to instantly register their feelings about the two presidential contenders.
On almost every question, the crowd dialed the more articulate and decisive Kerry as “very good” or close to it. They rated Bush around average, sometimes lower.
That president seemed not completely unlike the one who debated Republican Mitt Romney on Wednesday night.