The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday March 30th

Pundits: Bush, Gore Should Tweak Debate Styles

After round one of the presidential debates, political pundits say both candidates must make several changes in preparation for Wednesday's debate in Winston-Salem.

The two presidential candidates - Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush - met last week in Boston for the first in a series of three presidential debates.

Much of the debate revolved around issues concerning foreign policy, social security, abortion and education.

The next two debates are set to take place Wednesday at Wake Forest University and on Oct. 17 at the University of Washington in St. Louis.

Georgetown public policy Professor Colin Campbell, an expert on presidential debates, said the first debate between the two presidential candidates was a tie, partially because of low expectations for Bush.

"It's almost as if the nation gave Gore a 10-stroke handicap," Campbell said.

He added that many people expected Bush to stumble with names and word pronunciation.

"People were watching Bush very closely because they thought he'd make a misstep or two," Campbell said. "But that did not happen."

Baruch College public affairs Professor David Birdsell - an expert on presidential debates - echoed Campbell's sentiments, saying Bush performed well in the debate because he achieved the low standards that were expected of him.

"Many feel that Bush cleared his bar, which was way to low for a presidential candidate anyway," Birdsell said.

But both pundits said that while Gore displayed superior knowledge of policy, his presentation hindered his debate performance.

"Gore significantly undermined his position with off-camera sighing, head shaking and gesturing," Birdsell said.

He also added that both candidates had certain changes they needed to make for the next two debates.

Birdsell said Gore needs to reduce his distracting off-camera antics, while Bush needs to go deeper into his policy proposals.

He added that in the first debate, Bush did not follow up on many of his policy proposals and was reduced to using words such as "fuzzy math."

Birdsell also said it is unclear if there will be any changes in the kind off issues addressed at the next debate because the topics of discussion are in the hands of the moderator.

"In these debates we're listening to the moderator's agenda, not the candidates' agenda," he said.

But Birdsell said that in the upcoming debates Gore would like to discuss environmental issues, while Bush would like to focus on his proposed tax cuts.

Despite the vast media coverage that the debates have received, neither pundit is sure whether the debates really had any influence on voters.

Campbell said most people have already decided which candidate they will vote for and will not change their vote simply over what the candidates said in the debates.

"Everybody is sort of looking for reasons that they don't like the other candidate," Campbell said. "I don't think the debate moved many people."

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