Verdicts on the debate in today’s papers divide neatly along organisational lines, with News Limited observers saying it was close and Fairfax giving a clear win to Rudd. The commentator who comes closest to calling it for Howard is Sid Marris: speaking with colleague Dennis Shanahan on a video at The Australian’s website, he judges that John Howard was stronger, but Kevin Rudd didn’t suffer a loss. Shanahan decries the Rudd-centric worm, and says only that the Opposition Leader won because he didn’t lose. Also on the video are Paul Kelly, who says Howard was very much on top at the start but I think Rudd finished better, and Sky News man-of-the-hour David Speers who gives the debate to Rudd on points. In the newspaper itself, Matthew Franklin gives Kevin Rudd a narrow victory in the face of a well above par performance by the Prime Minister. Doug Conway of the Courier-Mail calls it a draw, offering the wearily familiar assessment that neither Mr Howard nor Mr Rudd made a disastrous blunder, nor did they land a lethal body blow on their opponent. Only Mark Kenny of The Advertiser breaks ranks, saying Rudd unquestionably had the better of it, while echoing the customary caution that the longer term political significance is unlikely to be great.
By contrast, the headline in The Age tells us of Rudd’s decisive win. Michelle Grattan declares Rudd the clear winner, sounding confident and convincing against an opponent whose energy flagged and temper flared, while Tony Wright rates it Rudd’s night on most fronts. Similarly, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher reckons Rudd the clear winner, and says he has cemented his claim as frontrunner. The assessment of the Canberra Times is that Rudd won because he didn’t debate. He had a plan to sell and he came, he saw and he sold. In the other non-News Limited paper available to hand, The West Australian, a report by Chris Johnson and Shane Wright talks of Rudd clearly getting the better of the Prime Minister. Political editor Andrew Probyn also gives it to Rudd, saying the Prime Minister was on the back foot … over WorkChoices, climate change, leadership and interest rates.