The Monk didn't watch the debate last night for a number of reasons. First, listening to John Kerry makes The Monk shout things at his TV, disturbing the Monkette2B and sending the pets scurrying for cover. Second, The Monk's vote is decided, therefore the debate was not going to change my mind. Third, The Monk gets enough agita watching the Yankees in October, he doesn't need to cringe at any of Bush's misspeakments. Fourth, there was a Yankee game on, therefore The Monk exercised proper prioritization. Fifth, the Wongdoer can stand doing the post-debate reaction part better than I can, that's why I've got a co-blogger. He does 1/4 to 1/3 of the work for the same pay.
All that said and done, the question of who won may be answered not by reference to the debate itself but to reference to post-debate spin. That's why first impressions mean very little. The immediate consensus in 2000 after the first debate was that Gore won, but his mannerisms and attitudes were the story of the post-debate cycle and converted his victory to a loss. Thus, do not discredit the partisans (on either side) -- from Joe Lockhart touting the Bush smirk to Hugh Hewitt saying that Kerry killed himself with the "global test" for using force.
A lot of conservatives are worried because they believe Kerry won. But I think this reality check by John Hood is a good one. Moreover, everyone who analyzes debates as commentators, from bloggers to the mainstream media, tend to overintellectualize their reaction. That is, they make scorecards, analyze the smoothness of each speaker, track the comebacks to see if D or R made a certain rejoinder, etc. Ultimately the debate result will be determined by how the impression that you have of each man is reinforced by what he said in the debate itself. To that end, the impression of Kerry as a flip-flopping internationalist will only be reinforced by the transcript, and the RNC is editing the clips as I write.