Inside the Capitol

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Presidential Debates

SANTA FE Presidential debates were once something I’d skip. They aren’t debates. They’re just joint presentations and where’s the fun in that?
But as the candidates have become more sophisticated, so have the viewers. Neither candidate is likely to throw a knockout punch or make a major gaffe. Viewers now are learning to watch for nuances, such as demeanor and quality of responses.
Early polls indicate that viewers thought Sen. John Kerry won the first debate. He seemed composed, and even calculating, while the president appeared nervous and relied on a few stock answers to many questions.
But don’t take instant impressions too seriously. Overnight polls showed Vice President Gore winning the first debate four years ago. But Republicans did such an effective job of criticizing Gore’s minor gaffes over the next few days that later polls ended up showing a debate victory for Bush.
Should we count it a minor gaffe that both candidates got their colors mixed up? Kerry wore a red tie and Bush wore blue. A little more major gaffe was committed by the Associated Press. In the never ending battle to scoop the field, the AP accidentally released an article about the debate before the debate started. It was written in the past tense as though the debate already had occurred.
Actually, the debates are much easier to watch this year than the television ads. I am so tired of all the negativism that I’ve given up being a news junkie during September and October. ESPN is a refreshing retreat. And thank goodness for the baseball playoffs occurring at just the right time.
But we must remember, negative campaigning will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. Despite what we all say, it works. It is distasteful, but we probably do learn more from negative ads than we do from the positive fluff in the ads the candidates are willing to claim.
The trick is for viewers to sort out the overstatements and misstatements from the kernels of truth. It is something we may be getting better at as we become accustomed to negative campaigning. And the news media is helping with frequent analyses of campaign ads and debate statements.
Most states are not being subjected to the volume of negative ads we are experiencing in New Mexico. We are one of about 13 “battleground” states where polling indicates that neither candidate has as much as a five-point lead.
At this point New Mexico is in the “Barely Bush” category with about a four-point lead for the president. We are joined by Nevada, Missouri and Iowa. The “Barely Kerry” category has Maryland, Maine, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington and New Jersey. The candidates are exactly tied in Michigan, New Hampshire and Ohio.
Notice that the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire are both still battleground states, thereby enhancing their early presidential primary status.
This is being written the day following the debates. Anything can happen between then and the time you read this. But polling is an inexact science anyway, which is why all the battleground states are statistically tied, with polls disagreeing on whether some states are leaning one way or the other.
On the day of the first debate, former President Eisenhower’s son, John, a lifelong Republican, endorsed Kerry. He joins Ron Reagan, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, as the second child of a former Republican president to defect.
So far Chelsea Clinton, Amy Carter, the Johnson daughters and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg have not announced for Bush. But there is still time.
Polls often are denigrated as being inaccurate and taking attention away from substantive issues. But polling is getting more and more precise, and let’s face it, we love a horse race. If you want to follow the polls more closely, type “election polls” into your search engine and choose from several million.


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