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To hear the upshot of dozens of mini-news conferences conducted after Sunday night's leadoff presidential debate, there was no question who won. President Bush did. No, Bill Clinton did. Nope. Ross Perot was the clear victor.

The spin patrols - campaign officials who sprout up after an event to put their own interpretation on who won - came out in force after the debate and then again Monday morning.On one point they all agreed: Their man won. Usually by a knockout.

Democrats were the first off the blocks. Even while the candidates were still answering the last question - and before their closing statements - the Clinton spin team poured into the huge press filing center at Washington University.

Bush advocates were not far behind. And they brought with them reams of paper - written spin on the debate.

Even Ross Perot, who portrays himself as the ultimate non-politician, had an army of aides and friends trying to set the record straight - even while he professed not to care who won.

"I think he did a great job," said Tom Marquez, a longtime friend of Perot and former employee who went with the Dallas billionaire on a celebrated mission to rescue two hostages who worked for Perot from an Iranian prison in the 1970s.

Why was he here? "If Ross wants me to do something, I'll do it," he said, suggesting he was approaching his current mission with a similar sense of trepidation.

Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., said he thought Bush had won. Of Perot, Danforth said: "He was irrelevant and a little wacky."

Sometimes, those doing the spinning found themselves only yards away from their opposite number. Clinton communications director George Stephanopoulos was briefing reporters when he was asked which team he thought was doing the best job. A voice shouted out "No question. Bush-Quayle all the way."

The voice belonged to Bush campaign spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

"It was the first time we'd met," a surprised Stephanopoulos said.

Clinton strategist James Carville said Bush failed to lay out "a rationale or a justification why he should be given a second term. I don't think he even tried."

Not surprisingly, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater had a different view. He said Bush "batted .750 or .800, something like that, and that's good enough to win in any league."

Not only did each campaign send in spin teams after the debate, but they also sent them in before the debate to explain how their candidates would do.

Two of the biggest hits - in terms of attracting crowds - were New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Perot organizer Orson Swindle.

Swindle generated such a large crowd because he was one of the first spinners to show up - about three hours before the debate.

He predicted Perot would "give a stellar performance" and "establish himself as a credible candidate." Later Swindle came back to say his predictions were right.

Cuomo attracted a crowd because he was, well, Cuomo.

He held forth for almost 45 minutes before the debate.

He said people would see "how intelligent (Clinton) is" when watching the televised debate and enjoy "the sweet sound of his accent." Actually, it was a little hard to tell Clinton's "sweet sound" because he was hoarse throughout the 90-minute debate. But no matter.

Cuomo didn't return for post-debate spin.


(Additional information)

Presidential Debate: St. Louis

Five debate coaches declared Bill Clinton the winner of Sunday night's debate by the narrowest of margins. How they rated the candidates (averages of their culmulative scores):

STANDARDS Bush Clinton Perot

Reasoning 4 4 3.8

Evidence 3.8 4.2 3.8

Organization 4 4 4.4

Refutation 3.6 4.2 3.8

Corss-examination 3.8 4.2 3.8

Presentation 4.2 4.4 4.6

TOTAL 3.9 4.16 4.1

SCALE: 1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Average 4-Excellent 5-Superior

Standards of evaluation:

Reasoning: Does the speaker identify issues that are relevant? Does each step in his process of argument seem reasonable and logical?

Evidence: How effectively does the speaker support his own assertions with valid factual information or with the objective opinions of recognized experts?

Organization: Does the speaker present his arguments in a clear and well-organized manner, or is he overly complex and confusing.

Refutation: How effectively does the speaker expose the analytical, logical or evidential fallacies within the arguments of his opponent?

Cross-examination: How directly and meaningfully does the speaker respond to the questions addressed to him? How effective and incisive are any questions he may pose?

Presentation: How persuasively does the speaker communicate his message? Does he combine vocal and visual techniques to create an image of competence and leadership?

Source: National Forensics Institute