Wednesday, October 13, 2004

What To Expect From Debate #3

Tonight's debate, which airs live from Tempe, Arizona at 9PM Eastern/6PM Pacific, is another sit-down format debate that will be hosted by Bob Schieffer of CBS's Face The Nation. This debate will focus on domestic issues.

Conventional wisdom is that Kerry should win this debate, not only because he's performed so well during the prior two, but also because domestic issues are supposed to be his strength.
But we all saw how Kerry responded to questions about abortion and stem cell research on Friday. He seemed like he was talking in circles on issues that should be home runs for him since he has the majority of national opinion on his side. But Kerry, running to the middle, can’t bring himself to fully embrace either issue for fear of alienating religious moderates. George Bush, on the other hand, has no interest in secular moderates, or, apparently, undecided voters; his strategy is to bring out his religious right base, so he sticks with his "pro-life" stances on both abortion and stem cell research as though these are issues of the utmost simplicity. So, as an added bonus, in addition to exciting his base, Bush gets to demonstrate his now patented "it's either black or it's white" way of thinking and let Kerry appear to take every side of the issues. In other words, conventional wisdom can sometimes be wrong. You'll recall George Bush was supposed to win the first one. Kerry's got to exceed expectations to win this one handily and not get trapped by Bush's simple speak.

Other things to look for:

- The number of times Bush calls Kerry a "liberal." If the second debate is any indication, "liberal" looks to be the new "flip-flopper" even though it's the oldest Republican trick in the book. But, as Bill Kristol noted on Fox News on Sunday, Bush can't have it both ways: "how can Kerry be a flip-flopper AND a consistent liberal?" I think that disconnect is probably the reason that the "liberal" charge doesn't seem to be sticking. But of course he'll continue to try.

- Will Kerry invoke Chris Reeve's name? Kerry mentioned him in Friday's debate on the subject of stem cell research prior to the actor's death on Sunday and Kerry has apparently said he received a message from Reeve prior to his death to keep the stem cell issue at the fore. It will be interesting to see if Kerry uses his name tonight so soon after his death and if he does, will it seem exploitative?

- What will Kerry do with Bush Treasury Secretary John Snow's comments in Ohio on Monday that the job loss figures during the past four years that Democrats have cited in criticisms of Bush are a "myth" and that the $5 trillion surplus that Democrats say Bush squandered was a "mirage?" Judy Woodruff went so far as to say that Snow "lost Ohio for Bush." Certainly these comments amount to manna from political heaven and Edwards has already ripped "the Bush team" for being out of touch. Watch for Kerry to continue that tonight.

- Even though it's a domestic issues debate, watch for Bush to try to draw the conversation to the issue of terror. He'll try to bring up Kerry's comments in Sunday's Times that he wants to get to a point where terrorism is a "nuisance." Will Bush be slippery enough to get away with it?

Stay tuned.


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