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A gloomy forecast

  • Jon Kelly
  • 8 Oct 08, 06:32 AM GMT

NASHVILLE, TN: The weather here was dramatic all evening - cloying heat, grey-black storm clouds, pounding rain. It was shame, then, that the presidential debate failed to light up the sky tonight.

It seemed to me at the time that the previous encounter between Senators McCain and Obama had generated more heat than illumination: partisan supporters were enthused, but no-one I met in Oxford had been won over to one side or another.

It was a different story in Nashville. Wavering voters were starting to make up their minds. But the deeply committed seemed disappointed by what, to me, also seemed a largely inconclusive stand-off.

Cynthia DoneyCynthai Doney, a 44-year-old professional counsellor, already knew which way her ballot would be cast. Stronly pro-life, she was right behind McCain.

But the debate itself left her feeling subdued. Neither nominee, she felt, had succeeded in energising the audience.

"At first McCain seemed a little nervous, a little stiff - although he became more relaxed by the end," she told me. "Obama's a great speaker, but I don't think he gave a great speech tonight.

"I wouldn't have been able to pick a winner if I were undecided."

Shawanda ClayShawanda Clay, 35, felt much the same. The nurse practitioner was as passionate in her support of Obama as Cynthia was in her enthusiasm for his Republican rival.

But Shawanda felt that the evening had been an anti-climax, too.

"It wasn't as exciting as everyone thought it was going to be," she admitted. "It was very low-key.

"I would have liked them to talk more about health care - that's an issue that really drives me. But I guess that's a problem with the format rather than the speakers themselves."

You didn't have to be a cynic, though, to appreciate that the views of people like Shawanda and Cynthia - whose votes were already in the bag - were less important to the rival campaigns than those of the hitherto uncommitted.

Bobby Foglia And it was the latter category that seemed to respond better to the debate, at least according to my entirely unscientific straw poll.

Bobby Foglia, 21, was just the kind of first-time voter that both candidates were desperate to reach. Having grown up in marginal Pennsylvania with a Republican mother and a Democratic father, he had been undecided before the encounter began.

By the time it was over, however, he had been won over by McCain.

"I thought that McCain performed very well compared to Obama," Bobby said. "He was better at relating to people. The way kept saying, 'My friends, my friends': I liked that.

"Obama was very professional, but to me he didn't reach out so well."

On the other hand, though, you had 18-year-old Isaac Gonzalez. He'd also been unsure who to support before the contest, leaning only slightly towards the Democratic candidate.

After watching what he saw as a more assured performance from the Illinois senator, however, he had moved decisively into the blue camp.

Isaac Gonzales"He was much more concise and presidential. I'd say that I've now got a substantial amount of confidence in my vote for Obama.

"I thought McCain came over as passive-aggressive in his arguments and phrasing - he'd begin every answer by talking about what Obama thought. It didn't leave him time to explain what he would do."

In the days to come, polls may show a drift of independent voters to one candidate or another. I wonder, though, how much that will owe to the debate. Americans now don't have long to make up their minds, after all.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This summary is even less exciting that the debate.

    I watched it live, and McCain came over as old and tired, especially toward the end. As a "senior citizen" myself, I felt sorry for him. Obama, the younger man, was cool and in control all the way. Everyone had heard the arguments before, both tried to avoid controversy, and to that extent it was not exciting. But McCain needed to do something to regain control, and he didn't.

    Finally, people will judge the personality that came across, and on that score Obama won hands down. I was surprised to see that even CNN came to much the same conclusion, scoring 60:30 for Obama in viewer polls. As one comentator said, if Obama loses after all (because of race and the Bradley effect), it will be (another) major shock for America.

  • Comment number 2.

    Why should each candinate's "connection" and the "ease" and the fact that he calls me his friend all the time affect my vote?

    Don't I have opinions, on which I agree or disagree with the candinates? Don't I have a rough idea of how my country should be run?

    From this kind of undecided voters I surely prefer people passionately partisan...

  • Comment number 3.

    I think it is about time voters started to look at the actual records and background of the two candidates, instead of looking for performance and charisma in debates. Time to look at whether a candidate can deliver his promises rather than how good his campaign rhetoric is.

    One good way to do that is to look at the actual record of Obama's Chicago politics and his way of working and voting in the U.S. Senate.

    Mr. hiboutoo, calling himself a "senior citizen", probably should know better that personality is not how you came across in front of the camera. Please find out more about Obama's real personality by researching and reading more about his background.

    I also watched the debate live. McCain did NOT "come over as old and tired." If you are really a "senior citizen," please put yourself in his shoes and understand that how brutal presidential campaigns are.

    May God bless America.

  • Comment number 4.

    Now, with four weeks left, everyone should already make up their mind who to vote for. If you dont know yet, then you should look at the tax plans and the policies of each party. This is what will make you decide. It is more important to know what the party is standing for than what is the character or personality they both have. They both will have their advisors and members of the Congress so therefore, look at the party themselves. McCain does not make my heart beat but I like his party so therefore that is whom I am voting for.

  • Comment number 5.

    Does anybody else find all the reasons that people Jon finds for voting Mccain and Palin are completely flawed? It's worrying that saying "my friends, my friends" every two minutes (as mentioned in Justin Webb's blog) of the debate can win you votes.

    Just because Bush has spent 8 years staring bog-eyed into the camera delivering his fearmongering speeches (the first finance package address was scary for his face alone), it doesn't mean the test for US president should be how warm and cosy and "folksy" you come across.

    If I was American it would really wind me up being called "my friend" when quite evidently a large portion of America isn't!

  • Comment number 6.

    clueduprock wrote:
    Does anybody else find all the reasons that people Jon finds for voting Mccain and Palin are completely flawed?

    To give a definitive answer (apparently an ability lacking in both candidates): Yes, I find the reasons flawed. We are a country at war on two fronts, facing an economic crisis of proportions most of us have only experienced through school history books, burdened with Congressional representatives and senators that are more determined to cast blame than fix the problem.
    To me it is completely lacking in logic to vote for Obama because he makes me feel "touchy, feely good" or McCain because he makes me feel "securely, squishy connected" or any of the other nonsensical emotional responses to the candidates. I'll also include such illogical hypothetical rhetoric as what if McCain kicks the bucket the second day in office due to age or what if Obama kicks the bucket the second day in office due to some nutcase with a racist axe to grind.

    Votes should be cast for either candidate based on character, policy platforms, and reformative ideas that INCLUDE how these new ideas will be paid for. In short, votes should be cast on substance.
    If undecided voters are clearly struggling on the substance of both candidates, I can respect that. If undecided voters are waiting for that touchy-feely-you-connect-to-my-emotions moment, please observe that someday your children and grandchildren may ask how you reached your voting decision in this election.
    Your response should be more substantial than "He really connected to my warm and fuzzy side."

  • Comment number 7.

    "As one comentator said, if Obama loses after all (because of race and the Bradley effect), it will be (another) major shock for America."

    That sort of comment really irritates me. Basically you're saying anyone who doesn't vote Obama is doing so because he's black. i.e Republican voters are all racists.

    I could get a map of the US today and a red and blue felt pen and colour in how I think the states will vote and be 90% correct. Obama will win or lose on the votes of a very few swing voters in a very few swing states.

  • Comment number 8.

    I am really tired of both candidates, but especially Obama. Even though I am voting for him (his fiscal policies add up better than McCains, his healthcare plan is better, his focus in Iraq is on pulling out our troops, etc.) I have been hearing from and about him constantly for TWO WHOLE YEARS!!!! McCain has only been around seriously for ten months, and then he won the primary race early, and all we heard about was Hillary Clinton and, yup -- Barack Obama.

    Perhaps that is why I found the VP debate more interesting... that and all the hype over their predicted performance. But I really liked Biden, but when he ran in the primaries I did not hear about him. I only knew him as a Senator before the debate.

    Perhaps we should adopt a 4 or 6 week limit... except we know four years ahead of time when we vote for president again.

  • Comment number 9.

    I would much rather vote for intellect than bonhomie so I would vote for Obama and not McCain. The US needs some one with brains to deal with the rest of the world and win the respect back for the the US that has been lost by Bush and Cheney. As a British/Canadian living in Canada I would love to see Obama lead my neighbours to the south. McCain called those folks witnessing the debate "my friends", they are not his friends and he came across as phony and grasping at straws. Obama came across as bright and he spoke with conviction. We have the makings of a great leader here.

  • Comment number 10.

    in such a tight race I believe their should be a no holds barred debate where both canididates get to punch and counter punch each other as much as they want until the end of the debate. on issues of course.

    the debate formats are rendered useless with all these rules and moderations. why not put these men aroun a table and let them have a discussion about their differences, I think we would see a lot more about the candidates and their issues that way.

    what has really happened is that these campaigns have become so afraid of taking risks that none of the candidates are allowed to speak unfiltered.

  • Comment number 11.

    Strange that someone would respond favorably to the "my friends" line. I found it insincere and rather tiring for being repeated so often.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think Gonzalez expresses how the presidential debates really work. The undecided listeners don't try to analyze the policies in detail, and they don't try to decode the lies, they just size up the competition and decide which seems more "presidential."

  • Comment number 13.

    McCain came off as desperate and sleazy to this Republican. When Obama said he would go into Pakistan to get OBL if the Pakistanis were unable or unwilling to do so McCain jumped up with glee and said "You heard him, he's about to attack Pakistan!!!"

    Then he added the absurd "I know how to get Bin Laden, my friends!" Really!?! Then where the h#!! have you been since 9/11?

  • Comment number 14.

    Peter_Sym (#7), no one said "Republican voters are all rascists." What was said was that race is a factor for some voters. In a close election, that could make a difference.

  • Comment number 15.

    " Then he added the absurd "I know how to get Bin Laden, my friends!" Really!?! "

    I know how to get Bin Ladin.... bomb Saudi Arabia. You may have noted that the Al Que'da attacks in Saudi have stopped and that Bin Ladin in turn has stopped calling for the overthrow of the house of Saud. He's in a palace in the worlds biggest oil producer under the protection of the Saudi Royal Family.

    KNOWING this and doing something about it are rather different things though.

  • Comment number 16.

    the guy who fell for the my friend line is 21, he probably have never bought anything from a sleazy salesman before. Probably havnt bought is first car yet, or he would know that these guys always call you 'my friend' when they want you to take a bad deal!

    I know how to get bin laden my friends,
    i know how to handle a crisis my friends..

    then he continued to give no details other than 'trust me' i know what im doing!

    sounds like he is reaching for credibility to me. or he just assumes voters are really gullible.

  • Comment number 17.

    #7 : race does play a factor in this election, its naive to deny this.

    Also with the continuous blunders of the Mccain campaign and the horrible image problem the republican party currently has, democrats should and would normally be leading by 10-15 points at this point.

    The fact that its still close is not a reflection on how people view democrats, its how they view Obama,


    its not about experience (especially since Palin is Mccain's running mate) most people couldnt careles about experience, they voted for bush and clinton. its about the message and the messenger.


    as far as text book campaigning is concerned Obama has done everything right, but there is still doubts because he is different

    not the candidate you are used to seeing

    not to mention the rumours about him (muslim, swore on a koran, ) spreading on the internet. It plays on the fears of many.

    currently the Mccain campaign is taking the 'he is not one of us angle' once again playing on people's fears and suspicion. in a close election it does make a difference, especially in swing states like ohio, tenessee and indiana.


    Ill add that if Mccain loses this election it wouldnt be because Obama is better liked or more trusted its because Mccain fumbled his campaign, and shot himself in the leg too many times.

  • Comment number 18.

    The notion that Osama Bin Ladin is in protection in Saudia Arabia is conspiracy theory nonsense with nothing to back it up. Osama is not welcom in Saudia Arabia. Here's an interesting recent article on the subject:

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1840737,00.html?xid=rss-world

    I find it ironic that the Saudis can arrest people for "spreading false rumors on the internet."

  • Comment number 19.

    I hate their (Republican's) mixed messages... they say that the Dems say that it's patriotic to pay taxes, and they (Republicans) don't think it is, and yet where else does funding for the troops come from?!?

    The first time I ever thought of paying taxes as patriotic was when they started saying that it wasn't.

  • Comment number 20.

    The Republican Party's gatherings, especially with Sarah "the pitbull with lipstick on", are looking more and more like KKK rallies.

    All it need is the wooden crosses burning.

    The USA is being degraded into immorality.

  • Comment number 21.

    I watched the debate but was hard pushed not to fall asleep. I heard nothing new from the two candidates, one looks tired and old, the other is young and black. Is America ready.......I am personally glad that in a month this will be all over, what on earth will the BBC do.......however Jon your reporting is interesting and I enjoy reading it. Well done.

  • Comment number 22.

    MY comment went into cyberspace I watched the debate but found it hard to stay awake, both candidates had nothing new to say........

  • Comment number 23.

    18 " The notion that Osama Bin Ladin is in protection in Saudia Arabia is conspiracy theory nonsense with nothing to back it up. "

    Wheres the proof he's in a cave in Pakistan?

    I have no hard evidence he's in Saudi but I believe it to be the case. The 9/11 hijackers were virtually all Saudi, Wahabism (of which Bin Ladin is a figurehead) is state sponsored by the Saudis and the Bin Ladin construction empire still has a monopoly on Saudi government construction projects. With the oil & arms contracts the US depends on Saudi is an almost untouchable regime... its the safest place in the world for him.

    I will again point out that the bomb attacks in Saudi have stopped and that Bin Ladin has stopped calling for the overthrow of the house of Saud. Why?

  • Comment number 24.

    I would guess only a handful undecideds (who could care less about issues/substance) would fall for McCain's "I know how to get Bin Laden my friends" absurd statement. We Americans by enlarge are no fools - i hope.

  • Comment number 25.

    #24. Allegedly nearly half of americans believe God made the world in 5 days 6,500 years ago. If they'll fall for that....

  • Comment number 26.

    #24

    It could be because most USA citizens no longer believe in themselves. They have been lied, double crossed, fleeced for so long they will only believe what they want to hear.

    The truth is, there is no salvation for fundamental dogma believers.

    #23

    Even a village idiot by now must realized that Bin Ladin is an invention to keep the war in the Middle East going. The Cheney Administration is making sure that will continue with the Palin/McCain ticket to milk the cow dry for as long as it can. The Republicans know that most USA citizens, especially the right wing fundamental "Christians" are too stupid to believe otherwise.

  • Comment number 27.

    To: # 7

    The entire Republican and half of the Democratic Party need to take remedial training in race relations!

    If you truly think that "race" is not a factor in this election, then you are dumber than you think you are because you are not fooling anyone but yourself.

    In fact, I dare say that the USA is the last truly racist country in the world!

  • Comment number 28.

    Of course McCain's supporters are disappointed. Look at him on the stage, so old and tired. I don't think his mind was clear when he picked his laughing stock running mate. I wont' buy in any shit from a politician just because he calls me a friend. That is stupid. What a country needs is a leader who can think and be organized and clear minded when there is a crisis, not just somebody talks small talks in the so-called daily language.

  • Comment number 29.

    #26 "Even a village idiot by now must realized that Bin Ladin is an invention to keep the war in the Middle East going"

    Are you claiming he never existed?????

    I'd happily agree that he could he be dead and that both Al Que'da and the US would have strong motivation for not admitting this but I think the idea that he never existed in the first place rather flies in the face of all the evidence, not least the fact that his family have been very well known in the west for thirty odd years. Bin ladin didn't just appear in Afghanistan in middle age.

    It only takes one side to continue a war and its not americans blowing themselves up daily in Iraq. Al Qu'eda have turned into a franchise for any angry young muslim & Bin Ladin has been an irrelevance since 9/11.

  • Comment number 30.

    "In fact, I dare say that the USA is the last truly racist country in the world!"

    There speaks someone who clearly hasn't been to Saudi Arabia, China or Russia for starters.

    Neither did I say that race is not an issue, although it works both ways- surely a black man voting for Obama can be accused of racism too for not voting for the white guy? What I objected to is your claim that if Obama loses it will be because of his race. I wouldn't vote for the guy because I think he's too much like Tony Blair- all image and spin and no real chance of carrying out his policies, not because of his skin colour.

  • Comment number 31.

    #30"I wouldn't vote for the guy because I think he's too much like Tony Blair- all image and spin and no real chance of carrying out his policies, not because of his skin colour."

    Tony Blair possibility is a valid point ..one can see some similarities...but Blair took a while to let the self-righteous power get to him and obliviate rational policy decisions (e.g. Iraq with Bush) . I don't see -quite- the strange gleam in Obama's eyes, rhetorically speaking. A different gealm maybe because he'd be the first `different' POTUS and reprsent the American dream more than any of his predecessors. I'd have to give him that much. He is taking a personal risk given the BillyBob armed nutjob lot who won't be best happy.

    And in the end it comes down to who they are running against.
    John Major (or one of his `bastards') would have kept the country in a depressed state.
    In the current US case.... it really is an extension of Bush coming back via tired, confused and deserate old McCain...especially if Palin is thrust into `power' i.e. a figurehead for the old Cheney Brigade.

  • Comment number 32.

    24. At 09:26am on 09 Oct 2008, SydneySD-6 wrote:
    I would guess only a handful undecideds (who could care less about issues/substance) would fall for McCain's "I know how to get Bin Laden my friends" absurd statement. We Americans by enlarge are no fools - i hope.
    ==============================

    You hope?...........so how come all those millions of you voted for a fool, not once, which the world could have deemed an accident but TWICE?...........

    Please admit it that there a whole bunch of ignoramus in your country, it will be even funnier if they vote for "Mr 894 out of 899" dumbo.

 

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