How will Obama and McCain do in the first presidential debate?

I’ve been wondering about it because McCain attributes his incessant attacks on his opponent to the fact that Obama wouldn’t do several rounds of Town Meeting affairs in which McCain is comfortable. And McCain is (I understand) a bit uncomfortable in the standard debate situation.

The format, dates, rules, etc., for all 3 the presidential debates and the one VP debate, are spelled out here:*

The topic for the first debate is Domestic Issues.

So, how will they do?

*Yes it’s an Obama site but as you will see it just gives the debate essentials.

Depends if McCain remembers whether he’s pro-regulation these days or anti, whether he’s for immigration or against it, etc :wink:

Seriously though, I’m not actually sure if he’ll be able to remember all the position-changing he’s done. His “campaign” position so often seems different to what he believes, or used to believe. He might make a terrible gaffe by saying what he actually thinks.

Otherwise, they both seem pretty mediocre at debates, so I’d say barring a gaffe it’ll be a “draw”.

One thing that impresses me about Obama is that he actually answers questions. McCain will dodge, weave, and re-state talking points, but never address the actual questions asked. I predict frustration.

I think Obama will be a much more effective debater. McCain’s best hope is that Obama is dumb enough to step on a landmine. This has nothing to do with whose policies are the best, by the way–all the “McCain has no substance and is probably going to forget what position he took” nonsense is the standard SDMB circle jerk. Both candidates are smart guys, both can answer questions with authority. But that alone doesn’t win debates.

I think if McCain comes across as brave and presidential and genuine, if he continues to hammer home the points that have effectively defined his opponent in this election, it’s the best he can hope for. But the debates will be Obama’s strength, ISTM.

If we’re lucky McCain’s senility will show through. Otherwise, we’ll have to rely on Obama’s better debating skills and superior intelligence.

The thread will probably be taken entirely by people talking about how Obama will crush McCain, so let me jump in with a dissenting opinion. And this is from a guy who’d MUCH rather see Obama win.

  1. Obama was not terribly impressive in the Democratic primary debates. There’s just not a lot of evidence that debating is a huge strength of his. Planned or extemporaneous speeches to friendly audiences aren’t in any way an indicator of how well you’ll do in a debate.

  2. The fact that McCain has changed his position on things like regulation and immigration will probably not matter. The regulation of the financial industry might provide Obama with an occasion for a zinger, but in general, “You held a different position X years ago” is just not a debate winner. For one thing, it’s at least partially irrelevant - people are allowed to change their minds - and for another, it leads into point 3:

  3. Substance doesn’t matter in debates. What matters is who gets in the best line or makes the biggest gaffe. On substance, John Kerry absolutely annihilated George Bush in every debate on 2004, but none of that was remembered; the one thing that kept getting repeated after the debates was Kerry’s line about “a global test.” (The “don’t forget Poland” line also got a lot fo repetition, but seemed to hurt Bush less.)

Obama’s strength is his charisma and he’s got to play to that. Look statesmanlike, sound statesmanlike, and keep his answers relevant but simple. He’d also be well advised to try to piss McCain off, since McCain getting pissed is a golden opportunity to let him make a huge gaffe.

They’ll both do very well. They both have prepared speeches, and regardless of the question, they’ll pull out their stock answers. They’re not actually debates, the candidates just stand there are come out with their pat answers, pretty much ignoring the questions and ignoring each other’s answers.

Obama is the superior rhetor, but the debate will probably mostly talking points. McCain will mention his 9/11 and his torture experiences ad infinitum, which will probably resonate more with people than Obama’s ideas or eloquence. I think it will be basically a draw.

I suspect that Obama will have the same problem that our former Chancellor Schröder had. He will do better in absolute terms but everybody expects him to do so. The rigid format of the debates makes overwhelming victories unlikely and a “narrow” and disputed victory doesn’t help him one bit. I expect little enthusiasm about a performance within people’s expections, probably even the occasional disappointment. On the other hand as long as McCain’s performance is solid he has held his own against the charismatic rhetorics machine, a victory of substance over appearance etc.
I think unless McCain does something really embarrassing there is a very good chance that he will benefit from the debates.

Exactly. I don’t think Obama will do as well as everyone expects, nor do I think McCain will do as badly as everyone expects. In the end, which one wins will most likely depend on the viewer’s already-determined political leanings.

I just wish they’d do a debate that actually involved some balls. Have a dozen fact checkers standing by ready to do a reality check on every statement they make. But, no, that will never happen.


Who are these mysterious people who think Obama will do great in the debates? Even the Dkos sorts agree he’s not a great debater. Few people seem to think McCain is much better, though most do seem to think he’s a bit better.

I suppose the questions aren’t available anywhere?

No, but they’re predictable:

During the first and third presidential debates, and the vice presidential debate, the time will be divided into eight 10-minute segments. The moderator will introduce each segment with an issue on which each candidate will comment, after which the moderator will facilitate further discussion of the issue, including direct exchange between the candidates for the balance of that segment.

The participants in the town meeting will pose their questions to the candidates after reviewing their questions with the moderator for the sole purpose of avoiding duplication. The participants will be chosen by the Gallup Organization and will be undecided voters from the Nashville, Tenn., standard metropolitan statistical area. During the town meeting, the moderator has discretion to use questions submitted by Internet.

Time at the end of the final presidential debate will be reserved for closing statements.

From the link in the OP.

It all depend on how narrow the scope of the debate is. They will have 3. If one is economic, one international and one on domestic issues ,a weaker candidate can be prepped by the staff to get her through. The moderators can ask tough question and demand follow ups. Or they can ask general questions and let them escape unharmed.
Obama is smart and well spoken. I think he will do well. McCain has to worry his followers. He has been way off track lately.

And I wonder if McCain will have mental stamina to withstand the 90 minutes per debate without a gaffe or two, If I were Barack, I might start baiting him from the go, especially on domestic issues.

It’d be the best bet. Try to knock him off his game early and push him into a gaffe. Otherwise it’s a zero all tie. Supporters declare victory and those undecided go back to watching smear ads.

Except that Obama can’t be SEEN as baiting McCain. It’s a thin line to walk. But the thing is, it’s canned speeches, not a debate. So, if McCrain sticks to his scripts, Obama can’t prod him into indiscretion.

I am not sure McCain has the discipline not to jump off script. He actually believes he is a maverick and he can step out and succeed. He also has temper problems. If Obama can get the old goats goat, the real McCain can come out and embarrass all.

Who are the target audiences right now? Because really, how each of them will do will depend on what each of them are trying to accomplish with each target audience segment.

The are the core for each side. Each candidate wants to help motivate their respective bases to come out in numbers.

Palin seems to have helped McCain there some, but he still needs to close the deal. Of course the more he seals that deal the more he rev’s up Obama’s core too, and the more he risks alienating some of the middle.

Obama’s core is pretty well revved already. He more needs to perform in a way that makes the GOP’s core less revved to vote against him (even if they see little to vote for inMcCain).

And then there are those who really haven’t made up their minds yet, or not solidly so anyway. Those voters will not be swayed by issues or facts but by their gut reaction listening to them talk. Do they get a sense that this is someone they trust? Someone who shares their values? Someone they feel comfortable with as “leader”?

Of those targets the last is the most meaningful at this stage in the game and McCain’s ability to tell a good story may play well. His only problem is that he can not get away telling the same stories over and over again. He’s pretty well used up his ability to rehash his POW stories. His biography is known by all. So he has to be able to be quick witted and lively so that he isn’t perceived as doddering and grumpy. He needs to keep distancing himself from Bush while satisfying the core. He does that and he wins as much as he can.

Obama for his part needs to avoid his "uh"s and give clear definitive strong answers with two or three points max. No complex treatises on the greys. He needs to show that he can be in charge and decisive (without arrogance) and he needs to be “relatable” at the same time. He has to represent change while reassuring that his change isn’t all that scary big of a change. All while keeping the message going that McCain-Palin is just Bush and then some. He does that and he wins as much as he can.

Each have tough needles to thread.

Winning as a debate, logically making points? That victory matters naught. For these target audiences these debates play to the guts of the voters, not their brains.

My guess, McCain’s team will declare he won, Obama’s team will say he won, and the polls will show no real movement … and status quo right now favors Obama again.

I wonder if they will let Joe Lieberman stand behind him?

The format is out.
Debate one was supposed to be economics. it is now 3rd.
Debate one is foreign policy.
debate 2 in a Town Hall Meeting -questions by audience and Emails
The VP debate has been weakened for Palin. Very little talk between the 2 allowed and shorter response time. She is so qualified.