I like this take, coming from GOPer this ayem:
Kerry needed to dominate this debate. He is an orator and, more importantly, styles himself as such. The fact that he, like Gore, was unable to humiliate our “simpleton president” means he lost.
Also, the time in our nation is over when style points and debate skills get you into the White House and keep you there. People still saw Kerry as an intelligent, but deeply flawed leader.