LONDON - Foreign viewers and analysts seemed to concur with their American counterparts on the debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry: Neither candidate made the kind of gaffe that will cost him the election, but Kerry fared slightly better.
Whatever the early verdicts were, one thing was clear: the debate attracted a lot of viewers overseas, even though Europeans had to stay up late to see it, and Asians had to wait until Friday morning their time.
Mr. Kerry was able to strike some serious blows against the president in his handling of the war in Iraq. He charged that the war was poorly planned, and that it had been a distraction in the war on terrorism.
Kerry "won more points," said Stephan Strothe, a commentator on Germany's N24 news channel.
"Kerry seemed to show that he had the stuff to be president. He had more facts in his head, and he was able to explain his position in Iraq," Strothe said. "He is back in the race. This will help him in the race."
The Financial Times portrayed it as more of a draw, but one that didn't seem to benefit Bush, a Republican, in some polls.
"There was no single moment which sealed the debate for one man," FT correspondent James Harding wrote on the paper's Web site.
He cited the results of three post-debate polls that suggested that U.S. viewers were impressed by Kerry, with most saying he outdid Bush.
"Ahead of the debate, there was a sense that Mr. Bush could effectively seal the election by winning the debate on Thursday night. That, judging by the unreliable instant polls, did not happen," he wrote.
During the debate, Kerry claimed that Americans have been left with an "incredible mess in Iraq." Bush said Kerry's varying positions about the war have left U.S. troops wondering how they could follow him as their president.
Kerry "managed to keep the outcome open in this duel," Gernot Erler, a senior lawmaker with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, told n-tv television.
"I had the impression that Bush used his popular appeal very cleverly," he said.
But Germans couldn't help but notice that Kerry's stand regarding the Iraq war is closer to Germany's, a country that refused to send soldiers, Erler said.
Kerry "is against unilateral American actions. He doesn't believe that the superpower America can solve all the problems of this world alone. That corresponds with the beliefs of ... the German government."
Germany's ZDF television introduced the debate on its morning news bulletin with the words "John Kerry won - at least the first television debate."
Reporting from the debate site in Florida, the British Broadcasting Corp. headlined the analysis on its Web site: "No knockout blow."
"Mr. Kerry was able to strike some serious blows against the president in his handling of the war in Iraq. He charged that the war was poorly planned, and that it had been a distraction in the war on terrorism," the BBC report said.
"Even some of President Bush's supporters are likely to say that they would have liked to have seen him make a more convincing defense of his policies."
Still, the BBC said that despite Kerry's criticism, Bush "didn't make any serious gaffes that could have left a serious opening for the challenger."
Some Asian viewers also saw Kerry come out ahead in the debate.
"I don't think President Bush did such a good job on the issues. He seemed to waver," said auditor Rob Liew, a critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq who watched the debate while sipping coffee in Singapore.
Thousands of miles away in Tokyo, salesman Yasuyoshi Eguchi was just as certain about who ought to be U.S. president.
"The ties between Japan and the United States got better after Bush took office," said Eguchi, who hadn't yet heard the debate. "I think Bush is more suitable for the job."
Interest in the U.S. race is high in Asia, where countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore support the U.S. policy in Iraq.
TV stations such as Singapore's Channel NewsAsia carried the whole debate with commentary, and China sent five professors to attend the debate to learn more about American politics.
China didn't comment on the U.S. presidential race, but Beijing is clearly interested in the candidates' stands on Taiwan.
Taiwan - a self-ruled island that China claims is part of its territory - didn't come up in the debate.
© 2004 Associated Press