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Call It a Tie; Debate Two Was Pretty Even

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(Danville, California)

It could hardly have been closer. My final score for the debate was 14.6 for John McCain and 14.3 for Barack Obama. In essence it was a tie. The debate was notable for two things which were absent. It was widely predicted that McCain would attack Obama’s controversial associates, such as Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In fact, their names never came up. Nor did Sarah Palin’s. Again, it was widely expected that her readiness would be debated. Her name was never mentioned.

The Loyola Marymount Debate Score Sheets I use are pretty straightforward. The candidates are judged on four criteria: Clear; well organized; factual and relevant. So they were very close when they stuck to the question. If they wandered, they lost points.

For example, the candidates were asked to rank their issue priorities between energy, health care and entitlement programs. McCain ranked all three, but Obama ranked education and skipped the entitlement portion. Maybe he misunderstood the question, but he addressed an issue that simply wasn’t part of the question.

When another question focused on how to deal with entitlements, McCain talked about fixing Social Security. He said, “It’s easy,” and talked of the bipartisanship of Ronald Regan and Tip O’Neill on the same issue 25 years ago. But he offered no specifics on how it would be easy to fix. So McCain lost points there.

The LMU scoring system (as I interpret it) seems fairly objective on focusing on the issues raised in the questions. Where it is perhaps less clear is on the subtleties. For example, during a question on how they would handle Pakistan, Obama criticized McCain for singing a song at a town hall meeting, which went, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” McCain correctly pointed out - and the widely played video demonstrates - that the song was in jest. “I was joking with an old vet friend, who was joking with me about Iran.” So, taking a candidate out of context cost a debater points as well. It’s about the clarity criterion.

McCain, on the other hand, was hurt by his organization. He often stumbled when beginning his answers. He tried to quote Teddy Roosevelt by saying “Walk softly….talk softly….” By muffing the quote, it lost its impact. So he was docked points there.

I felt both men had excellent closing statements, and I scored them dead even. They were asked to address what they don’t know. “What I don’t know, is what the unexpected will be,” McCain said. “I do know what it’s like in dark times,” he added with obvious reference to his years as a Vietnamese POW.

“It’s the challenges that you don’t expect that consume most of your time,” Obama said in his answer. He spoke of his single parent mother, of the help his grandparents gave in raising him, and of the hard times, such as living on food stamps. “Despite this, I was able to go to the best schools on earth,” he added about his optimism for America. As I said, both closing statements by the candidates came from the heart and were personal. That scores well.

So ultimately who won? Well, McCain is behind in the polls, and he needed a stronger win tonight. With one more debate next Wednesday, he needs a bigger victory to reverse the trend.

The problem for McCain continues to be a sinking economy that so far shows no signs of bottoming out or of turning around. McCain put forth a unique idea tonight, trying to change the momentum. He suggested that the Secretary of the Treasury buy up all the bad home loans in the nation and renegotiate better terms for the homeowners, preventing foreclosures. “It’s my proposal,” McCain said. “It’s not Senator Obama’s proposal. It’s not President Bush’s proposal.”

Whether that idea resonates with voters remains to be seen over the next 28 days. I’ll be there watching and writing at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

What McCain and Obama Must Do in Debate Number Two

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(Danville, California)

The second Presidential debate is tonight in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s not a “do or die” event for either candidate, but certainly John McCain needs to make some inroads to catch up to Obama. It’s a town hall meeting format, and eighty undecided voters will be in the audience to ask questions. Here is a look from my perspective at what each candidate needs to do.

McCain: He needs to sell himself more than he did in the first debate. He needs to look undecided voters in the eye and say, “I will do x, y, and z for you.” Viewers will have to go home with some tangible promises in their pockets. In speech and debate coaching, it’s called “the rule of threes.” Studies show that in most good speeches listeners remember only three things, usually at the beginning and end. If he’s talking about the economy, McCain might promise to: 1) cut taxes for everyone; 2) lower gas prices by drilling for domestic oil; and 3) launch a full-scale investigation into abusive mortgage-lending practices. He must give people something to remember. He might also target toss-up states such as Florida, Virginia and North Carolina and promise those states that their huge military infrastructures will remain strong and perhaps expand under his watch. He must win all three of those states, or the election is over. He might further promise the three key western states, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, protections and expansions of their critical water supplies. He should make specific, key promises!

Obama: Don’t lose your cool. Your steady, even performance in the first debate was the right tone. Expect McCain to bring up your relationship with Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko and perhaps others. Just explain yourself; don’t get defensive. It might also behoove you to concede some points to McCain. Admit that the “Surge” worked in Iraq and that you were wrong to oppose it. That might endear you more to the military establishment, which is not quite sure what to make of an Obama Presidency. When questions come from the crowd, be sincere and empathetic. These are, after all, undecided voters you will be hearing from. If the election is close, you may need all of the votes you can get. Most of all, Obama cannot afford to be overconfident, given the latest swing in the polls in his favor. This is a volatile election year, and another surprise issue could swing the momentum back to McCain. I’ve seen some reports with Obama supporters thinking they might win in a landslide. That’s a critical mistake. They should just assume the polls are wrong and play this race as dead even.

Just to keep my job simple and consistent, I will again evaluate the debate with the Debate Scoring Sheets from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles www.lmu.edu. Using them, I had McCain a slight winner in the first debate and Joe Biden a comfortable winner in the VP debate with Sarah Palin.

As always, check back for post-debate analysis at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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