It was in the so-called town-hall style, with Bush and Kerry moving around a stage to answer questions from an audience of selected, undecided voters.
Many of those questions were on the subject of Iraq -- or the divisions that war caused.
"Mr. President, my mother and sister traveled abroad this summer and when they got back they talked to us how shocked they were with the intensity of aggravation that other countries had with the way we handled the Iraq situation," one questioner said. "Diplomacy is obviously something we have to work on. What is your plan to repair relations with other countries, given the current situation?"
Bush's response -- people don't want a president who tries to become popular and does the wrong thing: "I recognize I've made some decisions that have caused people to not understand the great values of our country. I remember when Ronald Reagan was president he stood on principle. Some might have called that stubborn. He stood on principle standing up to the Soviet Union and we won that conflict, yet at the same time we were very unpopular in Europe because of the decisions he made. I recognize that taking Saddam Hussein out was unpopular. But I made the decision because I thought it was in the right interests of our security."
Kerry turned a question about his alleged indecisiveness into an attack on Bush: "The president didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he's really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception."
And he portrayed the Iraq war as a distraction from the war on terror: "And if we'd used smart diplomacy we could have saved $200 billion and an invasion of Iraq and right now [Al-Qaeda's] Osama bin Laden might be in jail or dead. That's the war against terror."
Bush defended the Iraq war, despite the failure to find banned weapons. And he accused Kerry of changing his position on Iraq and said he did not believe Kerry would make America safer.
"I don't think my opponent [Kerry' has got the right view about the world to make us safe. I really don't. First of all, I don't think he can succeed in Iraq, and if Iraq were to fail, it'd be a haven for terrorists and there'd be money and the world would be much more dangerous. I don't think you can win in Iraq if you don't believe we should be there in the first place," Bush said.
There was the occasional flash of anger, too, like when Kerry accused Bush of running a unilateralist foreign policy.
Bush jumped off his stool to respond, as the moderator vainly tried to put another question: Bush: "Let me just -- I've got to answer this."
Moderator: "Exactly, [tries to change subject]..."
Bush: "Let me answer what he just said, about around the world."
Moderator: "Well, I want to get into the issue of the [military] draft..."
Bush: "You tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell [Italian Prime Minister] Silvio Berlusconi we're going alone. Tell [Polish President] Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland we're going alone. There are 30 countries there [with troops in Iraq]."
With just over three weeks to go before the election, opinion polls show Bush and Kerry in a virtual tie in the race for the White House.
They will meet for a final debate on 13 October in Arizona.
(compiled from wire reports)