October 15, 2008
When it comes to Wednesday's presidential debate, Sen. John McCain had better make it count and stand out if he wants to turn around his lagging support, according to the coach of Texas Tech University's title-winning debate team.
Joe Gantt, director of forensics and head coach of the Texas Tech debate team, can give valuable insight into the debaters' tactics, comments and impact to the audience. Gantt coached two senior debaters from Texas Tech that won a national championship this March.
"McCain needs a game-changing moment this evening," Gantt said. "McCain's standing in the polls is tenuous at best, and this is the last opportunity for him to stand on the same stage as Sen. Barack Obama and make a compelling case for his own candidacy and to create questions about Obama's experience and judgment." Both candidates have a unique style to handling the debate, he said. And while Obama's usual easygoing style has held up well for him, McCain's will have to balance his more aggressive approach to appear sharp, but not hostile.
"Slam dunks are rare in political debates," Gantt said. "Generally, they strengthen prior opinions rather than change minds. The largest exception to this is if a mistake or gaffe is made by one of the candidates. Those sorts of moments tend to resonate with media narratives in the days after the debate.
When it comes to the past two debates and the vice presidential debate, Gantt said they haven't had the same crucial impact on voters as they have in the past. Instead of engaging the debaters and the audience, these debates have allowed the candidates to coast, making the process dull to the viewers.
"So far, the debates have not been exciting due to the format. The rules have impeded much of the conversation and dialogue, and moderators have had little power to ask followups or to push candidates to answer the questions," Gantt said. "Obama would be fine with another night like that. But McCain needs a more exciting and engaging debate that allows him to score points in the minds of the voters. McCain will have to walk a delicate balance on the attack, however. He must attack, but he must do so in a way that does not make him seem mean or condescending."
CONTACT: Joseph J. Gantt, director of forensics, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-1328, (806) 777-9904, or firstname.lastname@example.org.