Wednesday, October 3, 2012

UAB prof gives the 411 on what to look for during tonight’s debate

Tonight, the nation will have a front row seat as President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney meet for their first one-on-one verbal sparring match in the race for the office of Commander-in-Chief.

The presidential debate kicks off at 8 p.m. CST at the University of Denver and will be hosted by Jim Lehrer of PBS’ NewsHour.

There are likely to be plenty of sound bites flying soon after, and UAB political expert Larry Powell, Ph.D., has offered his Top 4 list on what to look for.

1. Mitt has an advantage. The challenger tends to win the first debate, Powell says. “This is because you are putting the challenger and the incumbent on equal footing,” he says. “Generally, incumbents are accustomed to being the star and they don’t feel comfortable with equal footing.”

2. Watch for the wit. Republicans like to equip their candidates with plenty of one-liners that will make the news, says Powell, so “you can expect Romney to have several sound-bite zingers." Some may be repetitive, like the one Ronald Reagan used during his debate with Jimmy Carter: “There you go again.”

3. Substance, but no sizzle? By contrast, “Obama is not good at sound bites,” Powell says. “If you get one from him, it is going to be unexpected.” Powell says that Obama prefers to talk about the issues directly, but tends to be too wordy.

4. Count the body blows. The winner will be the candidate who dishes out the most verbal jabs of the night, Powell says. “Pretend that it is a boxing match and look for the one who lands the most blows,” he says. “You are not going to get many knockout punches.”

The action continues with the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. at Centre College.

About the blogger:Marie Sutton,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat includes humanities, social sciences, the School of Education and student life.

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