22 January 2008

How To Win The Debate

This analysis is from McClatchy News--I put this in so that when I rate the latest debate--to see if the advice was taken.

McClatchy Newspapers

What the three candidates will aim to accomplish in tonight's debate:

Hillary Clinton

To score points: In Clinton's strongest debates thus far she has mastered the facts, calmly disassembled criticism and attacked her opponents in just the right spots. Clinton did all of those things in a nationally televised debate in Nevada last week. Post-debate observers were near unanimous in praise of Clinton's effort, deeming her the winner. Clinton has also scored points when she injected humor or levity into these debates.

She wants to avoid: Clinton's weakest debate moments have come when she has been pressed to explain some of her positions, whether it's driver's licenses for illegal immigrants or some of her votes on the Iraq war. In those moments she has come off as overly defensive and, at times, not completely forthright. This being a Martin Luther King Jr. Day debate hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, race matters will be a focus. Clinton wants to avoid a replay of the controversy that erupted out of New Hampshire, where she offended some black voters with comments interpreted as disparaging of King's contribution to civil rights.

She can claim victory if: She escapes inevitable attack without being hurt too badly and speaks to the women voters she needs to win South Carolina. A McClatchy-MSNBC poll released last week showed Clinton trailing Obama slightly among women.

John Edwards

To score points: Edwards, who is trailing badly in South Carolina and whose best showing so far has been his second-place finish in Iowa, needs to bloody Clinton and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama. He needs to capitalize on every opportunity to attack. If Clinton and Obama spend the night going after each other, Edwards job will be made easier.

He wants to avoid: Edwards has at times been dubbed the angry candidate since he's turned up the heat on the campaign trail. Edwards needs to debate in attack mode, but he also needs to stay balanced. Edwards has done a good job of casting himself as the candidate most attuned to the economic woes of the poor and working class. His populist messages have been fairly well received. Edwards' message is more timely than ever, given the economic news of the past three months. Edwards wants to seize on every opportunity to attack Clinton and Obama.

He can claim victory if: Post-debate commentators are talking about Edwards' consistency of message, his aggression and how he managed to zing both Clinton and Obama.

Barack Obama

To score points: Obama must sound decisive and look presidential. South Carolina is an extremely important state for Obama. South Carolina voters have to decide if he's electable before they cast a vote for him. To do that, he must match Clinton's mastery of issues, show candor and display the personality that has made him a hit on the campaign trail.

He wants to avoid: The hesitant Obama from last week, who seemed to have to search for too many answers and, at times, looked indecisive. Obama is the black candidate in a debate that will have some focus on issues that affect black America. His answers to those questions will be closely scrutinized by voters. Obama must avoid sounding too soft on civil rights issues, something that might alienate undecided black voters.

He can claim victory if: He matches Edwards on economic issues, matches Clinton on foreign policy issues and wins on domestic issues where his message of hope has been most resonant.

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