Candidates face off in ‘town hall’ debate

Stephanie Kudrle

Two down, one to go.

President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry met for a second time Friday night to exchange jabs and answer questions from an undecided audience. The third and final debate will take place Wednesday.

The second presidential debate was conducted in a town-hall style forum, and neither candidate knew which questions were going to be asked. The topics varied from the war in Iraq, to jobs, to the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Although debates haven’t mattered much in the past, this year, each debate could make or break a candidate’s campaign, said Larry Jacobs, University political science professor and political analyst.

“We saw that each candidate was presenting voters with a different question,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said Kerry is asking voters if they are safer and better off then they were four years ago. For Bush, the question is if the voters can trust Kerry to defend the country and bring about economic recovery.

Kerry dominated the first debate, Jacobs said, but Bush had a much better performance the second time around.

Young voters should pay attention to these debates, communication professor Edward Schiappa said.

“These debates are the best exposure to these guys,” he said. “A lot of students don’t have time to invest researching the issues and here’s a good opportunity to hear about them.”

However, if students watch the debate, Schiappa said, there is a checklist of things to do afterward.

First, turn off the television immediately after the debate ends, he said, to avoid hearing commentary from the news stations. The next day, go to to see whether the candidates were truthful – and then make your decision, he said.

Schiappa said ties in debates tend to favor challengers because they are not as well-known to voters as incumbents.

“People have had four years of constant exposure to Bush,” he said. “Their attitudes are fairly set so there’s not a lot of wiggle room.”

He said every time Kerry performs well, he’s going to get a bounce in the polls.

The third debate is going to be hard for Bush because domestic policy is not his strongest issue, Schiappa said.

He also said Kerry is doing better than Bush in the debates because Bush is not a strong debater.

“This is not a partisan statement,” he said. “This is 20 years of debate experience, and I would not want him on my team.”

But Tony Richter, vice chairman of the College Republicans, said he thought Bush’s message resonated with the audience during the debate.

“He put his views out there and people will see he’s the best choice for the next president,” Richter said. “He’s got a nice value system that best represents our country.”

He said Kerry’s background as a lawyer helps him be a good speaker, but his record shows there isn’t a lot of substance behind the words.

University DFL President Austin Miller said Kerry was offering solutions to problems, while Bush refused to acknowledge his mistakes.

Miller said it was too bad the debate took place at the same time as a Twins playoff game, but he hopes students will tune into the third debate.

“People will see Kerry does have ideas and solution,” Miller said. “Bush just kept giving soundbites.”

What’s up next
Last presidential debate
What: Third and final debate, focusing on domestic policy
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Arizona State University