Bush, Kerry Arrive In Florida For Last Minute Debate Preparation
President Bush and Sen. Kerry arrived in Florida yesterday. Tonight at 9 p.m., at the campus of the University of Miami, they will meet for the first of a series of three presidential debates. Advisers to the Bush and Kerry campaign tell US News Bulletin that they are not so much concerned about scoring a knockout blow in tomorrow's debate as avoiding a major flub by their candidates. "Look back at the history of these things," said a Kerry advisor, "and it's not like anybody wins. It's always that somebody does something stupid and loses." Aides to both sides described a long string of examples: Al Gore rolling his eyes and huffing, former President Bush looking at his watch, Gerald Ford calling Soviet-influenced Eastern Europe free. The one example of a winner: Ronald Reagan in 1980. The reason, said a Bush aide, was that people didn't like Carter but were unsure of Reagan until they saw his steady performance in the debate. Kerry aides said that they hope to follow the Reagan example and give voters a reason to back the Democrat who, like Reagan was at the time of their debate, is behind in the polls. But, said a Democratic strategist, Kerry is no Reagan. "I wish we had Reagan as our candidate," said the strategist. To prevent a mistake, aides said that Bush plans to stay on message and stick with a strong yet hopeful theme. Kerry, his side said, plans to challenge Bush, but in ways that do not feed the image that Kerry is arrogant. A former aide to Gore suggested that the biggest worry the campaigns have is that Bush or Kerry will do something to feed the negative impressions of them in the minds of voters. "If Kerry mispronounces a country, nobody will care. If Bush does it, it's devastating," he said. "But if Kerry looks like Mr. Smarty Pants, he loses."
Despite endeavoring to offer a carefree image for media consumption, Bush is by all indications preparing for debate with great intensity. ABC World News Tonight says the President's "aides made sure reporters knew he went bike riding and fishing on his ranch, as if he didn't have a care in the world. But behind the scenes, the President's preparations have been intense."
Kerry, meanwhile, is reportedly centering his debate prep sessions on focusing his message in concise answers that will fit within the established time limits. According to the CBS Evening News, the Democratic nominee "has prepped for weeks, using a stopwatch to shorten his sometimes rambling answers and town hall meetings to practice connecting with an audience. His challenge: Change the dynamic of this campaign by questioning the President's leadership on Iraq."
According to Knight Ridder, both campaigns are engaging in "'the ritual pre-debate frenzy:' touting the opponent as a champion debater capable of astounding feats of wordsmanship." CBS News Radio notes that as part of his debate strategy, the President's camp "has signaled that he will portray himself as a steady leader with consistent policies in Iraq and the war on terror. At the same time, he'll cast John Kerry as a serial flip-flopper on those issues and lacking the leadership skills to protect the nation." CNN's Inside Politics agreed, reporting that "all signs are pointing to the fact that the president intends to sharpen his attack line tomorrow night on the fact that they say that Senator Kerry is a flip-flopper on Iraq."
Meanwhile, says CBS News Radio, Kerry looks forward "to a debate about the direction of the country and the real differences with George Bush, vowing to pursue the war in Iraq and the war on terror in a way that will bring the world to America's side." Aides in the Kerry camp told US News Bulletin that the Democrat will try to hammer Bush by alleging he's misled the country on several fronts, including the economy. But mostly, because the debate focuses on foreign policy, the plan is for Kerry to address the administration's handling of the war. "The real question is, Will Bush stop misleading and start telling the truth about Iraq?," said a Kerry insider, sizing up the strategy. The goal is to get Bush to admit mistakes; something the Bush team says it won't do."
Nader Trying To Secure Ticket For Bush, Kerry Debate. The Hill is reporting this morning that "if media outlets want to interview Ralph Nader before tonight's presidential debate, they might want to secure an extra ticket for the outspoken independent candidate." Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said Nader "will be in Miami tonight and wants to attend the debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry. He added that Nader has asked the Commission on Presidential Debates for a ticket but that the panel has not responded. Zeese said the campaign will be asking media representatives who want to interview Nader for an extra ticket."