Bush Under Pressure To Regain Momentum As Candidates Meet For Second Debate
President Bush and Sen. Kerry are already in St. Louis, where tonight they will face off in their second debate. In the town hall style debate, questions will come from "soft" backers of Bush and Kerry (leaning toward them but not fully committed). Participants have been selected by the Gallup organization.
Both campaigns are trying to lower expectations for their candidate. As the AP reports today, both camps "portrayed the other's candidate as having the advantage in a town hall-style debate." However, consensus among media commentators is that Bush faces the greatest challenge tonight because of his lackluster performance in the first debate. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes "Bush is under pressure to turn in a much better performance in his second debate." In the week "since the first face-to-face confrontation between the presidential rivals, Bush's lead in the White House race has evaporated." He also "faces a new government report that challenges his rationale for invading Iraq." Newsday agrees, pointing out that "the stakes are high for both men but more so for Bush, who must try to squelch his opponent's momentum and regain the initiative." Bush "cannot afford a repeat of a somewhat irritable and sluggish first-debate performance, analysts say, and his campaign says he plans to go on the attack against Kerry's record on Iraq and the economy."
Some analysts, however, see a potential advantage for Bush in the town hall format. USA Today says this morning, "He's no Oprah, and his audiences are supporters who don't usually ask tough questions, but President Bush has an aptitude for the town hall format that will be used in Friday night's debate with Sen. John Kerry. In 19 question-and-answer sessions this year, Bush has parried with a few hostile questioners, showcased his easygoing nature and created some poignant moments and laughs." He "seems comfortable roaming a stage, riffing on his views instead of delivering his standard speech. Friday night's rules allow Bush to move around the stage and respond to the voters who will pose the questions." The Baltimore Sun also thinks the format "could play to Bush's advantage. While both men have appeared in similar settings before, the famously folksy Bush can appear especially at ease when interacting with ordinary Americans."