I am poised for tonight’s presidential debate from Coral Gables. Like hurricane coverage that starts two days before the storm arrives, the TV pundits have run out of valuable things to say.
Here’s my point: Debates can affect elections.
As close as it was, Al Gore’s horrendously stiff show in the last election debates probably cost him the presidency. Remember ‘lock box,’ a phrase he obviously wanted to get in no matter what was asked?
There was Ronald Reagan’s “there you go again” to Walter Mondale, Gerald Ford’s premature freeing of Poland from communist rule, and Richard Nixon’s five o’clock shadow.
Tonight I hope it’s not a gaffe that eliminates one man from the presidency, but a realization by the voters of where they stand vis a vis the other.
I recently watched an entire George Bush campaign stop on ABC World Now. There was no commentary and no cut aways. Bush was masterful. I was extremely impressed at his warm, folksy style. To see it used so effectively was unexpected, to say the least. If he can pull that off in this debate (of course in a campaign appearance he never faces critical commentary or questions from his audience as he will tonight), Kerry might as well start wind surfing tomorrow.
On the other hand, for the first time, Kerry gets seen in context with the president. Will he look presidential, compared to the man who currently defines that role? If he does, that goes a long way to calming some fears.
How will he handle the charge of flip flop? If John Kerry changes that perception, Bush has a much tougher opponent for the next 33 or so days.
Will either candidate attack the other? If so, how will the voters react? It can be looked at as a sign of strength, or the trait of a desperate man, depending on how the attack is wielded.
This will be very interesting to watch. I’ll be glued to my seat.