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Baylor experts say No gaffes, but no clear victor

Oct. 4, 2000

By JEFF SCHELDT

Assistant City Editor

Neither candidate appeared to be the clear winner in Tuesday night's debate, according to two local debate experts.

A professor and student debater looked at three aspects of the candidate's debating.

The first criterion they considered was whether the candidates appeared likely to be competent presidents.

'A president must be effective on television,' said Dr. Karla Leeper, associate professor of speech communication and Glenn R. Capp director of forensics.

'I think, to his credit, that he [Bush] did sound presidential at times,' said Blake Thomas, a junior speech communications major from Amarillo. 'He turned down opportunities to take personal attacks at Gore which was good, but as he got more flustered, that's when the insults started.'

Gore may have tried too hard to be the more dominate debater.

'Gore was trying to demonstrate that he was much more on top of issues than Bush. In the first 10 or 15 minutes, he was too aggressive,' Leeper said. 'But their not running for dog catcher, there's an expectation that these debate are going to be vigorous.'

The second thing a debate audience should look for is if the candidate has a 'good command of the facts,' Leeper said.

The debates can question a candidate's competence.

This is especially controversial for Bush, who has been reluctant to speak on specifics thus far, Leeper said. A consideration is whether rattling off facts will make a candidate appear to be bland or brilliant.

'I think that Gore was a lot more specific on the issues -- especially domestic issues. Bush's Medicare proposals sounded a lot more vague, his idea of privatization doesn't play well in a two-minute answer,' Thomas said.

'At the point where they are trying to disagree, they start talking about numbers and that starts to lose people,' Thomas said.

'In public speaking, we talk about how to use statistics effectively. Gore tends to list them while Bush speaks in generalizations,' Leeper said. 'There were more specifics from Gore.'

Thomas observed that both candidates resorted to spitting out numbers when questioned about why their plan is better than the other candidate's.

'When they were pressed for a distinction between their proposals and their opponent's proposals, the numbers start flying, and that's where they lose the average voter,' Thomas said. 'I think Gore displayed a better understanding of the fact that people watching aren't going to absorb the details of his policy propositions. Bush tried to convince [viewers] of the validity of his proposals right there on primetime. If you didn't know anything about the issues you would have been a lot more turned off by Bush than by Gore.'

The third consideration Leeper looks at deals with a topic that can turn an election around in an instant.

'When they're up there and it's just them, we get a good chance to see how they act under pressure,' Leeper said.

Leeper referred to Dan Quayle's floundering in the 1988 vice-presidential debate and Ronald Reagan's successful handling of a question about the issue of age in the1984 election as examples of how candidates have historically handled the tough questions in front of millions of viewers.

Thomas said he doesn't believe that either candidate uttered any sound bite that would severely damage either candidate's White House bid.

'Nothing is going to come back to hurt either of the candidates,' Thomas said.

Leeper agrees.

'Everybody's looking for something to be memorable, but in this debate, there wasn't any great defining moment,' she said. 'You didn't have the mistakes like Nixon looking sweaty or George Bush Sr. looking at his watch. They both stayed focussed on what they were trying to accomplish.'

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