Election 2008

second presidential debate, town hall debates, town hall debate mccain Obama
LM Otero/AP
Barack Obama at the University of
Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., during the
presidential debate, Friday, Sept. 26,


Previewing the McCain-Obama Town Hall Debate

October 07, 2008 02:25 PM
by Liz Colville
The presidential candidates will meet for a town-hall style debate, moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw, at 9 pm EDT on Tuesday, Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

Obama Leads in Polls Heading into Second Debate

Voter registration in the battleground states is shifting in Ill. Sen. Barack Obama’s favor and many polls are currently giving him a lead over Ariz. Sen. John McCain, but both candidates are seeing the second debate—a town-hall style format with 80 undecided voters accompanying them on stage—as the central event of the week. Sen. McCain may try to steer the conversation away from the economy and toward foreign affairs, but both candidates will likely be faced with challenging questions from Americans feeling the effects of the Wall Street crisis.

The week of the second debate began with tougher words and advertisements from both campaigns, reintroducing the “guilt by association” theme that nabbed the spotlight prior to September’s bank collapses. The weekend of October 4-5, Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin brought up Sen. Obama’s connection to former Weather Underground activist Bill Ayers, describing Obama as “palling around with terrorists.” In response, Obama’s team brought up Sen. McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five scandal during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. The Los Angeles Times notes that McCain asked “Who is the real Barack Obama?” at a recent rally, while an ad by the Obama team called McCain “erratic.”

Opinion & Analysis: The Talk of the Town Hall

The town hall environment will offer the candidates a less formal setting than the first debate. Slate’s John Dickerson says that “in town-hall debates, the questions from the crowd can easily be turned into ‘moments’ that journalists cling to for weeks.” Dickerson recalls the “Ponytail Guy,” who made an appearance at the 1992 debate and railed President George H.W. Bush for “running a mudslinging, character-based campaign” against his inevitable successor, President Bill Clinton.

But Dickerson notes that Obama could be faced with a grilling of his own from Gov. Palin’s “Joe Six Pack,” the term she uses to describe the working-class American she aims to represent as McCain’s running mate.

Viewers should expect a move away from economic discussions tonight, “[i]f Senator John McCain is in fact trying to shift the focus of attention away from his ability to deal with the economy,” writes Kathryn Q. Seelye in the New York Times blog The Caucus. McCain may put most of the emphasis on foreign affairs, as he did in the first debate when he repeatedly “tried to cast Mr. Obama as a naïf, someone who does not understand the complexities of a perilous world.”

McCain will “go negative … albeit carefully,” predicts the New York Daily News, adding that Palin “all but broadcast the strategy [Monday] when she said at a Florida fund-raiser that her message to McCain was he ‘might as well take the gloves off.’”

“Over the top negative attacks and a campaign message that too often seems to be little more than sarcasm and suppressed anger has damaged McCain’s priceless and hard earned “brand” as a different kind of Republican,” argues former McCain campaign adviser Mike Murphy in Time’s Swampland blog. “McCain’s best option now is to ditch the chainsaw and offer a scared and angry country what it badly wants; hope and leadership.”

Obama must use the second debate as an opportunity to win over more white, working class voters, argues Douglas Schoen in The Daily Beast. Obama “fares poorly with voters over the age of 40, working-class voters, and former Hilary Clinton supporters,” Schoen notes, citing a September AP/Yahoo poll. Beyond race, Schoen says, is the inability of this voting group to identify with the seemingly rootless and Ivy League-educated Democratic candidate. Obama “needs to identify himself clearly and unabashedly with fiscal conservatism, as well as traditional lifestyle issues and a commitment to faith and cultural conservatism.”

Reference: Election 2008; debate transcripts

Visit findingDulcinea’s Election 2008 section for more recent articles on the campaign, as well as profiles of the candidates and their running mates and articles on key election issues like the economy and energy.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) hosts transcripts of the presidential and vice presidential debates, dating back to 1960, on its Web site.

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