Thursday, October 07, 2004

Tonight's Debate

A good primer from
Bush Ability to Connect in Town Hall Faces Rare Unscripted Test

Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush's ability to connect with voters will be tested tonight in an unscripted town- hall setting that will be used for the second debate with John Kerry, the four-term Democratic senator from Massachusetts.

Bush rarely faces unscreened questioners on the campaign trail -- only supporters are allowed to attend the ``Ask President Bush'' events that follow a similar town-hall format.
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The president's negotiating team was wary of the town-hall format even before the first debate and agreed to it only after concessions on the other matchups.

``They didn't want to do the town-hall debate, period,'' said Alan Schroeder, author of ``Televised Presidential Debates: 40 Years of High-Risk TV.'' ``In the final analysis, they had to because it's in Missouri and that's a swing state and they couldn't afford to alienate voters there.''
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``The risk for the president is that most of the tough questions are aimed not at the challenger, but at the incumbent, who has made decisions for four years,'' said Larry Sabato, who runs the University of Virginia's Center for Politics and has written extensively about the format. ``If this campaign has shown us anything, it is that Bush is on the defensive about the war in Iraq, the economy, and even his education program.''
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Kerry's challenge will be to keep Bush on the defensive and limit his own tendency to wander, said Terry Sullivan, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina.
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Kerry used town-hall meetings as Clinton did to stage a primary comeback in Iowa this year, staying hours later than intended to answer every question and convince every voter he could.

``The town-hall format is a natural for Senator Kerry,'' William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who ran against Kerry for Senate in 1996, told radio host Don Imus yesterday. When he faced Kerry in a town-hall meeting, ``he was completely in his element and so he slaughtered me,'' Weld said.


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