Here we are 48 hours after the Second Presidential Debate on October 7 and most of the polls have picked Senator Barack Obama the winner over Senator John McCain. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey suggests that Obama won, 54% to 30% over McCain.
Although I see the debate as being much closer, I give the nod to Obama again on this second debate for one major reason, Obama’s ability to connect with an audience. Obama comes across as very likeable, McCain generally like a grumpy old man. And for 90% of the voters, that’s what it’s going to come down to. Forget the issues, the incessant blaming and the candidates’ questionable past acquaintances. For McCain to win he must make some dramatic changes to the way he is perceived or it will be a slow burn to defeat.
A close look at the debate will help you to understand my perspective. When the moderator, Tom Brokaw, introduced the candidates, both stepped briskly onto the stage, waved, smiled and shook hands with each other. This was in sharp contrast to McCain’s stiff, curt appearance the month before – a nice improvement.
But a significant differentiator between the two men continued to be how one acted while the other answered questions. McCain usually busied himself by jotting down some notes or reviewing his talking points. Obama, on the other hand, maintained a pleasant facial expression and locked his eyes on McCain seemingly so as not to miss a single gesture, movement or word. It gave the perception of a man so confident in his message that he didn’t need to study his notes and could instead focus on the responses of his opponent.
Similarly, when Obama answered questions he typically engaged the audience by addressing not only the inquirers, but everyone in the town hall setting. For the most part, McCain directed his answers only to those who asked the questions, thus missing important opportunities to engage the audience and build rapport. Moreover, McCain frequently blinked his eyes rapidly and darted around the room when responding to questions from Brokaw or the Internet. This is usually a sign that someone is uncomfortable or lying or both, which is not how McCain wants to be perceived.
Although there were few meaningful sound bites, McCain scored points when he reminded Obama that he said he would cut taxes when things got bad, then looked at Obama and said, “I’ve got news for you. This is bad.” Obama, fond of speaking in generalities, made his point clearly when he said, “If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year, you will not see a single dime of your taxes go up. If you make $200,000 a year or less, your taxes will go down.”
For the record, both men continued making some of the same vocal errors. Obama, prone to filling his language with fillers (“uh”), had about 40, down from 146 in the first debate, compared to McCain’s three, down from 31. McCain’s use of the words “my friends” (at least 12 times) was both irritating and impersonal. A simple “you” would have done the trick. Equally bothersome, but less repeated, was the expression “the point is.”
So, no knockout punches, but the advantage goes to Obama for his Rock Star Attitude – showing people that he likes them.
Stay tuned next Wednesday, October 15 at 6:00 p.m. PDT for the third and final Presidential Debate from Hofstra University where Bob Schieffer will moderate a 90-minutes session focusing on domestic and economic issues. As usual, I’ll post a blog shortly thereafter.