THEY BOTH had their moments, the vice presidential debaters. By that we mean good moments and bad. Rep. Ferraro was somewhat stumbling in her presentation -- at least part of the time. She had the disconcerting habit of looking down as if to consult notes she was making. And her tour of the horizon, especially of Central American terrain, was pretty shaky. She was strong in many of her ripostes to Vice President Bush's attacks on the Mondale-Ferraro ticket's positions, however, extremely effective when she got angry at him and also in her closing statement. And she demonstrated, in talking about her senior running mate, Mr. Mondale, that it is possible for a vice presidential candidate to be supportive and respectful of the man running for president without being obsequious and groveling about it.
Here she differed from Mr. Bush who, in the grand and gushy tradition, fawned all over his president in an appalling way. Mr. Bush had much more authority in the second (foreign policy) part of the debate than the first (domestic affairs), and in this area he was much more masterful than she. (Both debaters seemed skilled to us, incidentally, in justifying what were, in both cases, politically difficult and vulnerable positions on abortion.) Mr. Bush was at his worst, we thought, when he got stagy and by turns seemed to be frantic and heavy- handed in his politics and overpracticed jokes and highly imitative -- down to the last aw shucks gesture -- of his mentor, Ronald Reagan, who didn't do so well at the old gig Sunday night. These moments were almost embarrassing. Let Reagan be Reagan, as the saying goes -- George Bush should be himself.
A word on expectations: much that was anticipated didn't come to pass. The delicacies about how he mustn't bully and she mustn't shriek and so on seemed irrelevant. His "preppy" manner, a source of anxiety to his own friends, was not apparent. She, again defying the common wisdom, held her own in the debate with a more experienced public figure and so may have furthered her purpose of demonstrating that she is a plausible candidate for vice president. This is something George Bush didn't have to worry about.
Much as we like to spot outright winners and losers, this one seemed to us a "muller." It will be much mulled over by the public before the winner is proclaimed.