Bush, Gore will need to copy each other, experts say


Cox News Service

BOSTON — Here’s what the experts say to watch for if you are scoring at home during tonight’s presidential debate:

Give a point to Democratic nominee Al Gore anytime he seems to have some of GOP foe George W. Bush’s better qualities. Do the same for Bush when he shows he has a bit of Gore.

Each candidate needs a bit of what the other candidate has, say political rhetoric experts Rita Whillock and Wayne Fields.

They say that Bush, generally perceived as the likeable guy with whom you’d like to have lunch, has to show he is up to speed on policy and issues. And Gore, generally perceived as the kid who reminds the teacher she forgot to give homework, has to continue the effort to burn down his wooden image.

"Gore has to convey the qualities most people associate with Bush and vice versa," Fields said.

"People didn’t like Gore and they thought of him as wooden," said Whillock. "Everybody liked Bush. It wasn’t a likability issue. It was a policy issue."

Neither candidate will accomplish his goals with a single answer or gesture, according to Scott Reed, the GOP strategist who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. "Rarely is there a knockout punch in a debate," he said.

If you are a decided voter, your opinion won’t count in scoring the debate. History shows that — short of a major gaffe — if you like Gore now, you will score him as tonight’s winner. Ditto for Bush backers.

Your undecided neighbor is another matter. Polls indicate the Nov. 7 election could be decided by the roughly 10 percent of the electorate that is undecided five weeks out.

Score points for Bush, according to Fields, anytime he can "convey something more than warmth and charm."

"He is not expected to have the kind of mastery of the subjects that Gore has because he has been a governor, not a vice president," Fields said. "He has got to make it clear he has the intellectual capacity to handle these kinds of things, that he is substantial enough to be a president."

GOP consultant Reed, who is not affiliated with the Bush campaign, said Gore may have to work a bit to overcome his natural inclinations.

"He has a tendency to overshoot the runway in these things and allow his sarcasm to drip off of every word and sound like he is preaching down to everyone," Reed said. "Gore is a natural-born killer when it comes to debates. They are going to have him on doggy downers. He needs to be relaxed and not overhyper."

When it’s over tonight, to figure out who won, count up the times Bush has seemed knowledgeable and the times Gore has seemed likeable and declare a winner.

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