Kerry won this debate, no doubt about it, especially if you watched it in split-screen mode.
All in all, this third debate was suprisingly quite civil compared to the first two. I think both candidates had moments when they connected to the audience, something neither candidate could do exceptionally well in the town hall style debate.
But Kerry did a better job than ever this last time in appealing to be more camera-friendly, more presentable to those not quite used to his equivocal, deep language. Like in the first debate, he clearly had done his research and made arguments filled with meat, yet was also able to substitute time looking down and writing notes to smile at the camera and present himself as more of an everyday citizen, who will admit "marrying up", speaking of his mother's words to him before passing away, and presenting how faith has guided him in his life.
This I believe is what can boost Kerry up in the final stretch of the campaign. To be presented as a more likeable character, and I think he has succeeded to some extent, if not quite up to par with Bush's rating.
Also, I think Kerry earned this victory when you consider the campaign strategies entering this final debate. The Kerry campaign wanted to expose Bush's record these past four years, the Bush campaign was saying, "You can run, but you can't hide!" and eager to expose Kerry's 20-year Senate record.
Bush got some statistics across of Kerry's record, but Kerry was effectively able to defend his ground and provide own examples of success in his record, including breaking from his own party in 1985 to balance the budget.
On top of that, I think Kerry more effectively exposed Bush's record the past four years than Bush did on his mission to expose Kerry. From how Bush handled the Assault Weapons Ban and let it expire, to the constitutional amendment proposed to ban gay marriage, to social security, even to immigration, where Bush claimed it was a subject he was quite familiar with being a border governor, Kerry presented his arguments in a fashion that painted Bush like Mr. Hand from "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" when he looks at Kerry's answers, reacting like what Mr. Hand did to Jeff Spicoli!
Kerry's best answers I believe came from the constitutional amendment argument, where he gave a very empathetic, spiritually-toned "We are all God's children" response, as well as on the faith-in-life question, his response to the assault weapons ban expiration, and his argument on raising the minimum wage.
Of course, Bush had some strong moments. I thought he, like Kerry, also had a good closing statement, a great answer to the final question on what he learned from his wife and daughters, and good rebuttals on the tax argument.
Finally, watching this debate in split-screen mode, Kerry looked more disciplined than Bush. Kerry appeared more camera-friendly while Bush gradually got more tense and drew impatient gestures as the debate moved on, until the last few questions, where Bush improved.
In the end, I think Kerry got more that he hoped to get out of this final debate than Bush did. Bush looked and did better in comparison to that first debate, but still fell behind here.
FINAL DEBATE RECORD: KERRY 2-0-1, BUSH 0-2-1
"You'll find something that's enough to keep you
But if the bright lights don't receive you
You should turn yourself around and come back home" MB20