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Early poll gives Kerry the edge in final debate

According to a poll taken after the debate, Sen. John Kerry had more reason to smile.
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TEMPE, Arizona (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry appeared to gain more momentum heading toward November 2, easily beating President Bush in the third and final debate, a poll taken late Wednesday night suggests.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup snap poll taken immediately after the presidential debate found that respondents gave a significant edge to Kerry over Bush, 52 percent to 39 percent.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The numbers were similar to the results of a poll taken the night of the first debate September 30 in Miami, Florida. That night Kerry was favored by a 53 percent to 37 percent margin.

Kerry and Bush were almost even in the second debate on October 5, with the numbers falling within the margin of error.

The respondents Wednesday were 511 registered voters who watched the debate. Their political affiliations broke down as 36 percent Republican, 36 percent Democratic and 28 percent independent.

The poll is a reflection of immediate impressions of only those voters who saw the debate on television, and cannot be applied to all registered voters. Views of all Americans can change in the days after a debate.

Kerry scored big gains, as 42 percent of respondents said they had a more favorable opinion of him after the debate. Bush only increased with 27 percent of those polled.

When asked who would handle domestic issues better, Kerry scored higher in health care (55-41). There was no clear leader on the economy (Kerry 51, Bush 46), education (Kerry 48, Bush 47) or taxes (Bush 50, Kerry 47).

Kerry's biggest win came on the question of who expressed himself better, where 61 percent of respondents chose him over Bush (29 percent).

The president was viewed as more likeable, but Kerry appeared to respondents as having the better understanding of issues (49-37).

As expected, both campaigns declared their candidate the clear victor.

"I think tonight that Americans saw someone who's ready to be commander in chief," said Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager.

"Someone who has plans for where he wants to lead this country. I think that he did extraordinarily well and he delivered a faithful and optimistic vision of where the country can go in the future."

Karl Rove, a senior adviser to Bush, disputed the accuracy of such instant polls, noting that a similar snap poll in 1984 showed Walter Mondale won the second debate with President Reagan.

"The president was the clear, commanding victor tonight," Rove said. "It's going to give us a great momentum rolling out on the trail here for the last 19 days."

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