McCain, Obama Square Off - Page 2 of 2

McCain, Obama Square Off

and 41% said McCain would.

“The average person watching had to be struck by the difference between these two candidates. Obama was much more cerebral and forward looking. McCain referred to things, like Nunn-Lugar legislation, that made me wonder if people in Topeka would understand what he’s talking about,” says Larry Berman, a University of California-Davis political scientist. “The visual aspect played to Obama who tried to engage McCain, who never looked at him.”

Carnegie Mellon political scientist Kiron Skinner also believes neither candidate won the debate. “It was such a safe conversation that I don’t think anyone scored major points,” she says. “There was one time where I think Obama outmaneuvered McCain, and that was on the issue when McCain said that he would except for defense and veterans he would cut spending throughout the federal government and Obama came back and talked about child care and other things people care about. So he drew a contrast that will resonate with people.”

Skinner contends, however, that Obama should have done more to link the issue of defense spending to the funding being proposed for the financial bailout plan. “Drawing the relationship between defense spending and the overall economic picture of the country is something Obama could have done for the voter and would have scored big points,”
she says.

Berman also believes that Obama missed an opportunity on how successful the surge has been in Iraq. “McCain kept saying the surge succeeded, but what does that mean? It might mean that you can walk three more blocks and electricity is working in 50 more households, but does it mean that when we leave this country it will be able to survive? I think the answer is no.”

In some ways McCain, says Skinner, performed better than expected. “He really presented his arguments in a way that was much more thoughtful than I’ve seen him do in speeches he’s given throughout the year,” says Skinner. “He seemed to be much more in command of the facts and in his ability to relate the facts to the positions that he holds than he has
in the past. There was a sense that he had really prepared.”

Berman’s overall assessment is that there was no great line or sound bite that future historians will be able to turn to and say it turned
the election. But, he adds, “Elections are always about choices and this debate was a good example of the choice that Americans face.”