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Saturday, October 09, 2004

To expand a little on Andrew's debate analyses, I will offer a few thoughts. First off, despite the GOP's and MoveOn's belief that interpreting winners and losers is merely a matter of post debate spin, and whoever gets their guys to water cooler first wins, the debates themselves do cast deep and long standing impressions in voters' minds. As Andrew pointed out in his post last week, the first debate was not only won by Kerry, whose appearance and deportment, and clear, articulated answers served him well and won over many voters, but I would argue that separately, it was also "lost" by the President's strange willingness to mimic Al Gore's mistakes of four years ago, and this has been born out in public opinion polls since then.

Here is my second hypothesis (not mine only, you will probably be able to find these same thoughts elsewhere), and this is where last night and Tuesdsay's V.P. tilt come into play: the debates are actually a single event stretched out over many days, and the only portions that really matter are the first hour of the first debate, and if anyone is still watching, the last hour of the last debate. In between, there might be memorable contrarian moments, such as Lloyd Bentsen's scorching of Dan Quayle in 1988, or President Clinton's interesting moral convolutions on Gennifer Flowers and marijuana. In the end, the middle portions will only affect individual issue voters, as illustrated last night by the gentleman who asked about the President's environmental record, or the woman whose query of John Kerry's abortion stance led to his least effective answer of the evening. As you could probably tell, the voters represented by both of these particular issues are not likely to fall into the "undecided" category at this point in the race or for that matter at any point in the race. So instead, images of a petulant and beligerent President that were created by the first debate are reinforced as he railroads through the moderator, they are extended down the ticket as the Vice president looks grumpy and skulking next to the bright and happy challenger, and these images can only be slightly offset by an equally poor showing by Kerry.

Four years ago, the impressions of Al Gore were set by his audible sighs in the first debate, and his subsequent and much improved performances in the follow-ups were discounted and in fact used against him by Bush 's campaign as evidence of Gore's shifting with the political winds. This time around, I believe the tables have turned on the President, last night he took to mimicking John Kerry's use of note taking during the opposition's time, rather than making disgusted faces. This is a visual concession of a lack of leadership. His self deprecating humor about sometimes wanting to scowl only works in partisan rooms, he could ask Howard Dean how it plays after his infamous "scream" derailed the one-time Democratic front-runner's campaign in Iowa. The debates therefore, are already all but over, John Kerry won, and more importantly, President Bush lost. If Kerry continues on to take the White House from a sitting President, Mr. Bush can look to last Thursday as the one night he should like to have back. Interesting he didn't mention this when given an opportunity in his last question of the evening to name three mistakes he personally made. (Well, maybe not that interesting -as is typical, he preferred to use the question to once again pass responsibility for mistakes to others, i.e. I hired so and so and he made the mistakes and I'd prefer not to embarrass him.)

One caveat, I said that I thought the first hour of the first debate and last hour of the last debate were the most important. I should clarify that: there have been instances where a candidate late in the campaign is able to reach out to connect to voters in a deeply personal way, often through invoking pets or dead relatives or similarly universal warm-fuzzy bringing totems. Right now, neither the President nor John Kerry have been able to make this emotional connection.with the American public (The President has done it before, the last time amidst the wreckage of the World Trade Center, or perhaps as late as his first State of the Union speech following September 11) If he is able to do it again in the last debate, and I think he would have to include an admission of culpability in some issues and refrain from trying to relive the last the time he was able to make that connection, the President could turn things around. However, I feel that John Kerry has it within himself to also connect in such a way, and I suspect that if either candidate is able to have such a moment in these last few weeks, the race could be re-decided in a single evening.

Bran 5:22 AM : |


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