TO: Interested Parties
FR: The Obama Campaign
RE: Home-field advantage: John McCain
DA: September 26, 2008
Already declaring victory before the debate has even started, in ads running on the Wall Street Journal website, John McCain meets Barack Obama tonight to debate foreign policy - McCain's professed area of expertise.
The centerpiece of John McCain's campaign has been his more than a quarter century of experience in Washington learning about and debating foreign policy. If he slips up, makes a mistake, or fails to deliver a game-changing performance, it will be a serious blow to his campaign. Given his unsteady performance this week, he desperately needs to win this debate in a big way in order to change the topic and get back to his home turf.
For eight years, McCain has marched in lockstep with every single major Bush decision, while Barack Obama opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and has called for a focus on Afghanistan and al Qaeda. Americans want to know whether John McCain will stop spending $10 billion in Iraq while the Iraqi government sits on a $79surplus and our economy is in turmoil. Will he continue a policy that has taken our eye off al Qaeda and Afghanistan, and let Iran make progress in building a nuclear weapon? Will he continue the cowboy diplomacy and empty bluster that has shredded our alliances and set back our standing in the world? The fact is, John McCain will continue more of these same failed foreign policies. Barack Obama will lead us in a new direction.
On the economy, McCain's words and actions over the course of the past week have illuminated his lack of expertise. He admitted he does not understand the economy -- his erratic, out-of-touch behavior this week, his failure to do anything of substance to move the agreement forward on the bailout, and his commitment to continuing Bush economic policies, demonstrate it. But there are some questions we might see answered tonight after McCain's misadventure to Washington and the phony 'suspension' of his campaign. For example, will McCain finally say where he stands on the unworkable and counterproductive House Republican plan? Will he be willing to buck his own party?
According to the pundits, McCain's debating skills are unparalleled, as you can see below, and the expectations for him tonight are sky-high.
MCCAIN DEBATE PERFORMANCE
New York Times: A Review Of Debates Show That McCain Is Most Comfortable And Authentic When The Subject Is Foreign Policy. McCain "heads into the first debate on Friday with a track record as a scrappy combatant and the instincts of a fighter pilot, prepared to take out his opponent and willing to take risks to do so. ... A review of several of Mr. McCain's debates shows that he is most comfortable and authentic when the subject is foreign policy. And in a stroke of good fortune, foreign policy is the topic for Friday, the first of three 90-minute debates with Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee." [New York Times, 9/23/08]
New York Times: McCain Is Likely To Steer The Conversation To His Captivity In Vietnam Which He Showcased Triumphantly Last October In The Debate In A Discourse About Hillary Clinton's Earmark For The Woodstock Concert Museum Where He Mentioned That He "Was Tied Up At The Time" Of The Concert. "McCain is likely to steer the conversation, as he has in prior debates, to his captivity in Vietnam. It was the bedrock experience of his life and is the organizing principle of his political identity. ... He showcased it most triumphantly last October in a debate in Orlando, Florida. The moderator noted that while McCain had strongly supported the troop surge in Iraq, Hillary Rodham Clinton, then seen as the likely Democratic nominee, wanted to pull the troops out. McCain was asked whether the surge was a winning issue for Republicans in 2008. With a quick nod to the troops, McCain, characteristically, hijacked the question and skipped to pork-barrel spending, his favorite mode of attack. 'In case you missed it, a few days ago, Senator Clinton tried to spend $1 million on the Woodstock Concert Museum,' McCain said slyly. 'Now, my friends, I wasn't there,' he continued, letting it sink in why he had missed that festival in 1969. 'I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event,' he deadpanned, pausing again to stoke the culture wars. 'I was tied up at the time.' The audience roared with approval and rose to its feet for an extended ovation." [International Herald Tribune, 9/23/08]
Nate Silver: The Foreign Policy Debate Plays To McCain's Strengths. "There is little doubt that a discussion on foreign policy is playing to McCain's strengths. Even when Obama may be winning a foreign policy argument on points, it probably benefits McCain for foreign policy to be the subject of discussion, period, as it brings his experience, war heroism and purported readiness to the fore." [TNR, 9/23/08]
Emory University Assistant Professor of Political Science Andra Gillespie: McCain "Enters The Debate As The Substantive Favorite." Gillespie: "Because John McCain holds the issue advantage on national security, he enters the debate as the substantive favorite." [Andra Gillespie, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 9/21/08]
Vanderbilt University Professor John Geer: McCain Has An Edge In The Foreign Policy Debate. Geer: "McCain has an edge in this debate, since the topic is foreign policy. Obama needs to show his own understanding of the international affairs." [John Geer, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 9/21/08]
Georgia State University Professor Mary Stuckey: Foreign Policy Would Seem To Favor McCain Rather Than Obama. Stuckey: "Foreign policy would seem to favor McCain rather than Obama, and I would expect McCain to rely heavily on his personal experience and biography as evidence of his foreign policy expertise." [Mary Stuckey, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 9/21/08]
Heilemann: The Debate On Foreign Policy Is "A Lucky Break For McCain" And A "Chance To Move The Debate To Ground That Favors Him." "But the story line of the campaign is about to pivot to foreign policy and national security. Why? Because those are the topics on the agenda at the first Obama-McCain debate this coming Friday at Ole Miss. A lucky break for McCain, I hear you saying, a chance to move the debate to ground that favors him. And you may be right." [John Heilemann, New York Magazine, 9/21/08]
OBAMA DEBATE PERFORMANCE
DEBATES ARE NOT A GOOD FORMAT FOR OBAMA
New York Times: Obama's Debating Skills Are "Uneven" As He Has "A Tendency To Overintellectualize And To Lecture" And "Frequently Rises Above The Mire Of Political Combat When The Battle Calls For Engagement." "Senator Barack Obama has shown himself at times to be a great orator. His debating skills, however, have been uneven. Some of his chief strengths -- his facility with words, his wry detachment, his reasoning skills, his youthful cool -- have not always served him well and may pose significant vulnerabilities in the series of presidential debates that begins Friday, according to political analysts and a review of his earlier debate performances. Mr. Obama has a tendency to overintellectualize and to lecture, befitting his training as a lawyer and law professor. He exudes disdain for the quips and sound bites that some deride as trivializing political debates but that have become a central part of scoring them. He tends to the earnest and humorless when audiences seem to crave passion and personality. He frequently rises above the mire of political combat when the battle calls for engagement." [New York Times, 9/23/08]
AP: Obama Comes Across As "Lifeless, Aloof, And Windy" During Debates. "For a man known as a powerful speaker, Obama has rarely wowed people in political debates. He can come across as lifeless, aloof and windy." [AP, 9/20/08]
Fallows: Obama Never Managed To "Receive Big Acclaim After A Debate." "While Hillary Clinton time and again beat expectations, Obama never managed to put her away or receive big acclaim after a debate." [The Atlantic, September 2008]
John King Said Democrats Worry That Obama Is To Professorial Or Too Subdued In Debate Settings. John King said on CNN, "While Obama excels at the big event, some democrats worry he's too professorial or too subdued in debate- style settings like last weekend's faith forum." [CNN, 8/22/08]