“They both stunk.” That was political science professor Craig Curtis’ take on how candidates John McCain and Barack Obama performed in last Friday’s presidential debate.
“I did not see anything new,” he said.
Although the debate, hosted by the University of Mississippi, was scheduled to be about foreign policy, almost half of it was spent discussing the economy.
“They both said something had to be done about the economy, but neither would commit to a specific set of proposals,” Curtis said. “They both refused to answer the question of what they would cut given how much the bailout will cost, and that was the most important question.”
The $700 billion bailout plan was rejected Monday in the House of Representatives by a vote of 228-205. But on Wednesday, Senate passed a similar bill with several popular additions. The bill will be sent back to the house for approval.
College Republicans President Zephanie Custer said she thought the debate lacked substance.
“The debate overall was not as exciting or as informative as it could have been,” she said. “I felt like it was a name-dropping contest on both sides, and that is not something the average voter cares about.”
College Democrats President Josh Cox said he agreed with this view.
“Overall, the debate left a lot to be desired from both sides,” Cox said.
The two senators for the most part stuck to the same talking points they had articulated on the campaign trail, Curtis said.
“Their answers are extraordinarily well-rehearsed,” he said. “They spend days posing possible questions, anticipating responses and polishing answers.”
Both candidates reiterated their general campaign slogans: McCain framed himself as a maverick, and Obama called for the protection of “Main Street, not Wall Street.”
“McCain’s message was less about substance and more about creating an image,” Curtis said.
Even after the moderator’s persistent nudging, neither would give specifics on their plans for the economy.
“They were both vague on their proposals,” senior history major Courtney Wiersema said. “Neither stood out on the economy.”
Despite interruptions and a disagreement over McCain advisor Henry Kissinger’s support for negotiations with America’s enemies without precondition, the debate was relatively clean.
“I did like the fact that it was not as ‘nasty’ with attacks as some of the commercials and other campaign events have been, which is a good thing for all voters,” Custer said.
Some students said they thought moderator Jim Lehrer helped to create this atmosphere of decency.
At one point during the debate, Lehrer told candidates to address their answers to each other instead of him.
“I thought he did a good job of trying to get the candidates to talk to each other,” Wiersema said.
As soon as the candidates stepped off the stage, pundits and viewers began to grapple the question of who “won” the debate.
“I think Obama won, but I support him,” said Wiersema. “I’m sure those who support McCain think he won.”
Cox said he believed McCain needed a win more than Obama.
“I don’t think he had the showing he would have liked to given the drama he caused during the week,” he said.
With national polls hardly budging after the debate, it remains unclear if the debate had a major impact on the election.
“Nobody’s mind was changed,” Curtis said.