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article imageOp-Ed: Who Will Win The Battle Of The Debates?

By Johnny Simpson     Sep 23, 2008 in Politics
On paper, John McCain and Sarah Palin are at a distinct disadvantage with Obama and Biden vis-a-vis the upcoming debates. Obama is a footloose and eloquent orator, and Joe Biden has three decades of experience over Sarah Palin. But what of the realities?
UPDATE: Here is a MyWay report on debate preparations by both campaigns.
First, here is the debate schedule, courtesy of
Each debate starts at 9PM Eastern time!
September 26, 2008: (Tickets) Presidential debate with foreign policy focus, University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS
October 2, 2008: (Tickets) Vice Presidential debate, Washington University, St. Louis, MO
October 7, 2008: (Tickets) Presidential debate in a town hall format, Belmont University, Nashville, TN
October 15, 2008: (Tickets) Presidential debate with domestic policy focus, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
First, the matchups:
John McCain, a wizened politician with three decades of campaign experience, will face perhaps his biggest test when he faces off against Barack Obama, a charismatic and persuasive orator, at Ole Miss this coming Friday night.
There is no particular moment that stands out for me regarding McCain's run in the primaries. I cannot say the same for Barack Obama.
In a Des Moines, Iowa debate between the Democratic candidates earlier this year, Obama was questioned as to why he had so many Clinton advisers on his campaign. Amid laughter, Hillary opened the door for Obama by saying, "I'd like to hear that!"
So Barack let her have it with both barrels.
His quip, "I plan on having you advise me too, Hillary!" was a memorable turning of the tables in the annals of presidential debates, and revealed a candidate who thought fast, responded fast and closed on opponent's gaffes like a mousetrap.
Though McCain is well-liked as a moderate Republican, and his choice of Sarah Palin has given the ticket a boost perhaps even he couldn't have imagined, he will have his hands full in the duel of words with Obama.
In McCain's favor, he is an experienced politician with years of hitting the bricks and debating in primaries and general elections in Arizona. He also has three decades of debating issues in the US Senate, which also plays in his favor.
Also in McCain's favor are a string of recent gaffes, missteps and unfavorable revelations which have been provided with gift-wrapping and bows from the Obama-Biden campaign.
Biden's recent gaffes and missteps regarding AIG, clean coal and the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailouts which have caused very public conflict between the two cannot help Obama. Regarding FMFM, McCain also has the advantage of having supported reform of the lending agencies since 2003, attempts stifled in recent years by the Democratic Congress.
Obama also has the added political baggage of having received significant campaign contributions from both agencies, among the highest in the Senate. McCain will also no doubt bring up the relationships of Jimmy Johnson and Franklin Raynes as close advisers to Obama's campaign.
It is possible Obama may bring up the McCain-Keating Five imbroglio, but to most Americans that seems to be ancient history, while Obama's problems are today's news.
The first debate at Ole Miss will be regarding foreign policy. McCain has a distinct edge here, having gone toe-to-toe with Bush on a surge in Iraq forces for years, a policy that is now paying off in an Iraq that is far quieter and less violent than even a year ago. Obama has opposed any surge in American forces in Iraq.
Obama's stated willingness during the primaries to sit down unconditionally with the most virulent of America's adversaries, like Iran, may also be a bullseye on Obama's back that McCain may shoot for.
But in presidential debates, there are always 'gotcha' moments and surprises. The real question is, who will be gotten and who will be surprised?
Temperament may also play a factor. McCain is renowned by many for his temper, Obama for his cool under fire. But Obama has also had his moments of fluster, and McCain, for the moment, is sitting in the catbird seat poll-wise. Which candidates will show up?
So far, the only serious contention between the two has been the Saddlebrook town hall debate, memorable mostly for Obama's "above my pay grade" gaffe. Most observers have awarded Saddlebrook to McCain.
As for the October 2 Palin-Biden VP debate at Washington University in St. Louis, it should be a gem to watch the two go toe-to-toe. Though Biden is the more experienced politician with decades of campaigning and debates under his belt, he enters the debate with a number of weaknesses.
Sarah Palin has made her energy policies clear in numerous TV interviews. She is for drilling and minimizing dependence on foreign oil, a stand that enjoys majority public support. Biden is against it, and has recently flubbed the issue of 'clean coal' in very public fashion, apparently against it in Ohio but for it in Virginia. This may open him up to the charge of flip-flopper, which was the death knell for John Kerry's campaign in 2004.
Also, his recent gaffes regarding 'president' Roosevelt reporting on the 1929 stock market crash on TV may open him up for some playful prods by Palin. For the record, FDR wasn't president until 1933, five years after the crash, and was never on TV until 1939.
Biden is also renowned for a fierce temper, especially when chairing committees in the Senate. If he can't hold it in check, it will be a very long night for him.
On the other hand, if he can show a greater command of the issues than Palin and fight back any jabs by her with aplomb and humor, he might just pull it off.
So there you have it.
In closing, the presidential debates have had an enormous impact on elections in the past, from Lincoln-Douglas to Kennedy-Nixon and beyond. And it may be something as simple as a brilliant comeback or a fatal stumble that could sink any of the candidates.
You can be sure of one thing: all the candidates involved will be drilled relentlessly during debate rehearsals by their campaign staffs over the next few days, perhaps even as we speak.
Can't wait to see 'em!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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