WHEN the shouting, the arguing, the speech-making, and the finger-pointing were over in the combative vice-presidential debate, two things seemed clear:
Bush voters were still for Bush.
Clinton voters were still for Clinton.
Political analysts say Republican Vice President Dan Quayle and Democratic US Sen. Al Gore both gave as good as they got Tuesday night and fought to a draw. Some experts were impressed:
"Both did very well," says political analyst G. Donald Ferree at the University of Connecticut. "Quayle made a good case [against Bill Clinton]. Gore was clearly effective. Both came across as heavyweights."
Earl Black, an authority on politics in the South, was equally effusive. "Dan Quayle has become a role model for George Bush," he says. "Quayle certainly exceeded expectations. In contrast, Bush in his first debate did not display the kind of concentrated forcefulness that Quayle did."
As for the Democratic candidate: "Gore was also very good," Black says. "In some ways, Clinton could take a lesson from him. My overall impression is that the vice-presidential candidates did better than the presidential candiates."
The major exception was retired Adm. James Stockdale, the vice-presidential running-mate of independent candidate Ross Perot.
Black says: "The admiral gets a high grade for sincerity. But obviously he was not fully prepared to participate, though he was refreshing at times."
By Wednesday morning, the Quayle-Gore battle was still raging on TV talk shows. Quayle kept hammering at Clinton's character: "Bill Clinton does have trouble telling the truth," he told ABC's "Good Morning, America."
Minutes later, Senator Gore was on the same program calling Mr. Quayle "shrill," and suggesting that the GOP's desperate "smears" against Clinton are "not effective at all."
Quick polls indicated that both Gore and Quayle were effective. ABC-TV telephoned 624 Americans right after the Tuesday night debate and found 38 percent thought Gore had won, 35 percent believed Quayle was on top, but only 2 percent thought Admiral Stockdale had done best.
An NBC-TV survey taken at the same time gave Gore somewhat better marks. Fifty percent said Gore won, 32 percent picked Quayle, 7 percent liked Stockdale.
Experts say the greatest importance of the Quayle-Gore-Stockdale debate was that it effectively set the stage for tonight's second showdown between President Bush, Governor Clinton, and Mr. Perot.
Quayle laid down an artillery barrage to soften up Clinton for the president. He hammered away at two themes: First, that Clinton is a "tax-and-spend" politician who would boost taxes on the middle class. Second, that Clinton cannot be trusted.
The vice president was particularly forceful on the "trust" issue. He coined a phrase, "pulling a Clinton," which may be used by the president. It means that Clinton waffles on issues, on matters of character, and on his record.
Dr. Ferree sees this as "a potential Achilles' heel for Clinton" if the Republicans can make it stick.
For his part, Gore stuck to the script laid out in the first presidential debate by Clinton. The Democratic argument: Bush-Quayle policies, ridiculed as "trickle-down economics" which begin with tax cuts for the rich, have failed.
David Chagall, a political analyst in California, says that, while all these issues matter, voters also watch the debates to find politicians with whom they are comfortable.
He says Quayle and the GOP were greatly helped by this debate: "It tightens the race."
The reason: Quayle came off as a "street fighter" who was "very combative, dynamic, spontaneous."
This appeals to blue-collar working people, Democrats, auto workers - the kind of people who put Ronald Reagan into the White House, Mr. Chagall says. In contrast, Gore at times sounded "like a speech-school graduate."
Often, Gore came across as "very canned, like he was in front of a mirror," he says. All this turns off ordinary folks, Mr. Chagall says.
Black was less sanguine about Republican prospects. Since the Republicans are behind by about 10 percent in the polls, "a draw between Gore and Quayle is really a Democratic victory at this stage of the campaign," he says. "It increases the pressure on Bush."
Analysts say Bush must come out swinging with everything he has tonight.
There are risks, but he must take them. Otherwise, Bush could be facing a major defeat on Nov. 3.