I think the President's biggest failure was to deflect any question about jobs with an answer about education. Yes, education is important as a part of a policy to encourage growth in the economy and to provide business with the best possible workers. No Child Left Behind, however, is not going to get unemployed Americans back to work. I was disappointed that Kerry didn't call him on this.
The Senator's biggest failure was in coming up with a clear message through the whole proceeding. We heard a couple of snappy bites, but I didn't get a "repeat this on talk radio" kind of message from the Senator. Also, his closing statement was a bit unfocused. "I ask you for your trust. I ask you for your help. I ask you to allow me the privilege of leading this great nation of ours, of helping us to be stronger here at home and to be respected again in the world, and most of all to be safer forever." vs. "I want to thank you for listening tonight. I'm asking for your vote."
Where I think the Senator did well was in addressing some of the direct questions to him. He was clear and direct in responses, more often than not staying with the topic of the question. In rebuttal, however, he seemed to lose that focus. While Bush was similarly using his rebuttal to whip out his talking points, his were phrased to seem more a response to what his opponent was saying.
On point that has struck me through the entire debate process is one of respect. While both candidates have spent a long time attacking their opponent's positions and some time attacking each other, I recall more instances where Mr. Kerry has complimented the President on one aspect or another of his service in office. The Senator said, tonight, for example, "Let me pay a compliment to the president, if I may. I think -- in those days after 9/11, I thought the president did a terrific job, and I really was moved as well as impressed by the speech that he gave to the Congress." I do not recall the President initiating saying something similar about Kerry. On the question of character, I have to give the series of debates to Kerry; he's shown a truly American view of disagreeing with your opponent but respecting him in spite of those differences.