However, even Republicans I know admitted quite honestly and candidly that Kerry won the debate tonight.
This could be bad for Bush, because this first debate, concentrating on foreign policy, should have been his easiest and most comfortable ground, as Republicans are typically perceived as being the stronger party in international and military affairs. Unless Kerry gets overconfident, it may only go downhill for Bush from here.
In terms of body language, Kerry was doing some very good things, and Bush was doing some very bad things. GWB was hunching over the podium and blinking a lot: psychologists have done studies on the latter that indicate that the more someone blinks, the less trust an audience will have in what they're saying. If I were Barbara Bush, I'd want to grab him by the scruff of the neck and say "Son, you're the President of the United States of America! Stand up straight! Quit slouching!" If that didn't work, I'd stick my foot in the small of his back and yell "Posture! Posture!"
In contrast, Kerry was able to make himself seem less towering and gaunt: he repeatedly brought his hands on or near his heart, subtly communicating compassion while breaking that loooong line of body up so that he appeared animated and forceful. Whoever coached him did a good job. Additionally, he smiled repeatedly, and in a way that communicated confidence. (Saw this most often in the split screen view NBC used. Bush pursed his lips a lot, and smiled maybe three times during the whole thing.)
Kerry also did a good job of producing stats and information, while GWB stumbled repeatedly, latching onto "the wrong war at the wrong time" at least five times that I counted, maybe seven total, while he struggled to articulate. My only minor concern was that Kerry was maybe a little too prepared and informative at times -- don't want to alienate John and Jane Public with the intellectualism. However, I think he overcame that with successful body language. The Democrats have clearly learned from too much policy wonk stiffness with Gore in 2000.
We'll see if he can stay the course after the first debate, and then if it will be enough in November. Regardless, he did a very solid and respectable job tonight: despite a few minor slip-ups, he came across as presidential material, and that's exactly what he needed to accomplish.
Guess you'll have to pull Osama bin Laden out of that box you've been keeping him in for the predicted October Surprise, George. If the first debate is any indication, you're going to need all the help you can get.
As a side note, this NPR list of Top Ten Secrets They Don't Want You To Know About the Debates is interesting reading.