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Biden’s ‘Hard Night’ at Debate Surprises Voters Who Had High Expectations

Before Thursday, voters were nearly evenly split on how President Biden would perform during the first presidential debate: 46 percent of registered voters said Mr. Biden would do well, and 49 percent predicted he would not, in a recent Times/Siena poll. More registered voters — 60 percent — said they thought former President Donald J. Trump would do well, and 34 percent said he would not.

Steven Bergstein, 70, a Democrat who lives in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., was in a group of voters who had expected Mr. Biden would perform very well. In an interview earlier this week, he said he hoped that the debate would be an opportunity for Mr. Biden to draw a contrast between himself and his opponent. “He’s a bright guy,” Mr. Bergstein said of Mr. Biden on Wednesday. “He’s intelligent. He’s been through this many, many times.”.

He saw things differently on Friday morning, after Mr. Biden’s shaky, halting performance on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, I think President Biden had a hard night,” Mr. Bergstein said Friday morning. “His communication fell down.” The president did not perform as Mr. Bergstein had expected, a flawed showing that Mr. Bergstein attributed to Mr. Biden having a cold and the president’s well-known battle to overcome a stutter. He wished Mr. Biden were younger, he said, if only to assuage other voters’ concerns about the president’s age.

But there was no doubt Mr. Bergstein would still vote for Mr. Biden. “I don’t think it’s any reflection really on his brain or his abilities,” he said. “I think it’s a communication issue.”

Melinda Cassetta, 58, a Democrat who lives in Clarksville, Md., also said Mr. Biden’s performance disappointed her. But she worried that a flood of criticism of Mr. Biden after the debate could risk

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