Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Debate Prep

Even though we've now got only six weeks to polling day, it's all gone quiet in the US presidential election. This week, both Barack Obama and John McCain are spending their time holed up with their advisors, getting ready for the first of their three televised debates.

They've both got good reason to make sure they're as ready as they can be. It's unlikely either man will be able to put in a performance so stunning, it ends his rival's chances of winning the election. Even though Senator Obama is by far the more gifted public speaker, Senator McCain is an experienced and able enough politician to be able to at least hold his own. And besides, both have repeated their speeches and policy positions so often over the last couple of years, it's difficult to imagine either coming up with anything we haven't heard hundreds of times before.

But the way in which this debate and the others to follow could be decisive, is if either candidate makes an obvious error. In a close race (and although Senator Obama has edged ahead in both the national polls and some of the important swing states, it remains very close) a terrible blunder could cost either man the White House.

And it's Barack Obama who has to be extra careful. Careful not to look like he's being too clever. Careful not to look as though he considers himself to be above his opponent. Twice in recent history a slightly haughty display from one of the candidates during the debates made a notable difference - in 1992, an obviously bored George Bush Snr looked at his watch during a town hall-style debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, while in 2000 Al Gore rolled his eyes at George W Bush. Something similar from Senator Obama this time could end up being very costly.

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