Presidential debates take on role as big as office
Analysts say the stakes are raised this election year
By SCOTT SHEPARD
Cox News Service
Sept. 20, 2008, 4:55PM
WASHINGTON There's no underestimating the importance of the upcoming presidential debates. They are the main event in the 2008 White House contest in an America tiring of its lengthy war in the Middle East and battered by economic chaos.
"They always seem to be bigger than all outdoors, but this time there's great potential to be even bigger," said Allen Louden, a political communications expert at Wake Forest University who maintains a Web site, www.debatescoop.org, that analyzes political debates.
In a campaign already historic because of the first African-American candidate, events in Iraq and on Wall Street "have raised the stakes" for the debates, added Louden in a telephone interview Thursday.
In the contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, "they are the main event," agreed Paul Stekler, a documentary filmmaker and professor of radio, TV and film at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
And "if there's any one event the whole country is going to be watching, it's the first debate," Stekler said in a telephone interview.
The first of three debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates takes place Friday at the University of Mississippi at Oxford.
The candidates will be seated at a table, and discussion will be moderated by Jim Lehrer, anchor of PBS's The NewsHour.
The subject: domestic policy, with the 90-minute debate divided into 10-minute segments for various issues and closing statements.
The second will be on Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC News. The candidates will field questions on foreign and domestic issues in a 90-minute town hall format.
The final debate will be Oct. 15 at Hofstra University in New York, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News. Again, the candidates will be seated at a table for a 90-minute discussion, but the topic will be foreign affairs only.
A vice-presidential debate between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin will take place Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis, with moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS.
It, too, will be 90 minutes with both candidates seated at a table with Ifill, and it will cover domestic and foreign policy.
The timing of the topics domestic first reflects the priorities of voters in public opinion polls.
Even before the meltdown in Wall Street this week, Americans were telling pollsters that their major concern this election is the economy, largely as a result of high gasoline prices, a rising unemployment rate and the spreading credit crisis.
At this moment of high economic anxiety, Americans do not appear to be in the mood to hear the two candidates merely regurgitating political talking points manufactured by advisers, in order to minimize any potential damage.
"Voters want to see the two presidential candidates engaged," said Louden. "Talking points and glib one-liners just won't do" this time.
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Monday, October 20, 2008
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