Debates begin, voters paying attention

While Bush leads Kerry in current polls, it is only by a small margin.

The first of three debates begins tonight between President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, just weeks away from the critical November election. Let the battle begin.

These debates couldn’t have come at a better time. Recent polls show close results, with Bush just ahead of Kerry, for the time being. Both camps hope that the debates will help the undecided to make a decision and put one candidate ahead of the other.

Those undecided voters, along with the rest of the United States, are very interested in what these candidates have to say. This is a great opportunity for voters to size up the candidates on important issues. Not to mention it will be nice to have the opponents in the same room, able to respond immediately to each other’s comments. There won’t be any time for advertisements disputing the latest accusation, only time for quick comebacks.

The pressure is on for both men to do well in these debates. But what concerns will they address? We can assume that Bush will bring up Kerry’s tendency to frequently change his opinion on issues, while Kerry will most likely attack Bush’s National Guard record.

More important will be the candidates’ responses to their plans for Iraq, their intentions on how to help the economy and, of course, health care. Each man has the task of convincing the undecided voters that his plan will work, he cares and he will get the job done.

Kerry needs to show that he can be consistent and compassionate about issues facing the U.S. people. By outlining a more definitive plan for Iraq, the economy and other difficult areas, Kerry will attract more voters and demonstrate that he is the man for the job. He has the potential to be a great leader. If he can commit to one opinion on each issue, while maintaining poise and integrity, he can win over those undecided constituents.

Bush, on the other hand, needs to discuss his own intentions concerning the war in Iraq, the economy and so on. He also needs to be more precise and straightforward. He has a few strong points, but relies too heavily on only those strengths. He has to remember that while he has the lead over Kerry, it is only a small margin.

Televised debates can have a profound effect on the voters. In the 1960 debate between Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, those who listened to the debate on the radio were convinced that Nixon was the right man, while those who watched on television believed Kennedy would run away with the election.

It is important for both Kerry and Bush to keep this in mind. Viewers will be listening intently to their words, checking to see how consistent each man remains, but the viewer will also be paying attention to body language. The more comfortable the viewer is with the candidate, the more likely it is he or she will vote for him. There is a lot riding on these three debates; each candidate should bring his “A” game.

Beth Klein is a guest columnist. She welcomes comments at [email protected]