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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

The Debates: Kerry Will Go Down
Unlikeable and inauthentic, the senator will blow the debates
[Doug Gamble] 9/29/04

I have bad news for Democrats holding out the hope that the three upcoming presidential debates will spark a turnaround in Senator John Kerry’s campaign. He will lose the debates decisively en route to a thumping at the polls in November.

Because Americans already know President George W. Bush and his beliefs, he enters the debates minus the burden of something to prove. Many Americans, however, still do not know Kerry, putting more pressure on him to give a good accounting of himself. The problem is, Kerry also does not know who he is, and it’s too late for him to figure himself out.

One key to winning a debate is to be yourself, something Kerry can’t do. The one time President Ronald Reagan ignored this important rule, he lost to Democratic nominee Walter Mondale in their first debate in 1984.

Rather than showcasing a Kerry that more voters will consider voting for, the debates will expose a Kerry most Americans will realize they cannot vote for. While he will speak with seeming authority, what will ultimately sink him is the same underlying lack of genuineness he has displayed throughout his quest for the presidency.

Questioned about Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, the economy, education or any other issue, Bush will simply defend his positions with the same cocksure certainty he had in arriving at them. And rather than telling voters what he thinks they want to hear, he will state what he believes, with answers based on core principles that have remained unwavering during his presidency.

Kerry will have the disadvantage of not being able to speak from the gut but from the debate playbook. And playbooks can be complicated. There will be an instant before each Kerry response when he asks himself, “What, strategically, would be the best way to answer this question?” Although he may be more articulate, Kerry’s calculation of each answer will make him come across as a tin man in contrast to an opponent with a beating heart.

Democrats can’t even take refuge in the possibility of Bush being hurt by one of his famous verbal pratfalls. He has made enough of them going back to the 2000 campaign that, as was the case with gaffe-prone Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Reagan, they are now sloughed off by most Americans as insignificant.

Then there’s the likability factor, a huge advantage for Bush. In both words and demeanor, Kerry will cement his image as an elitist in comparison to the down home, plain-spoken president. And Kerry’s propensity to perspire is not something viewers will find endearing.

In debates including Reagan against Jimmy Carter in 1980, Reagan against Mondale in their second encounter in1984, George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Bush against Al Gore in 2000, the more likable but supposedly less articulate candidate was perceived as the winner. The 2004 debates will be no exception.

The encounters beginning Thursday are, as Yogi Berra would say, deja vu all over again. Four years ago Democrats expected Gore to trounce Bush in their face-offs and seal the election. They viewed Bush as a stumblebum who couldn’t possibly hold his own against a polished debater. Boy, were they wrong.

For Kerry, the trio of debates will be three strikes and you’re out. After he loses the first, allows his desperation to show in dropping the second even bigger and goes quietly in the third in an atmosphere of resignation and plunging polls, there will be only one important thing left for him to do: start working on his concession speech. CRO

California-based Doug Gamble contributed speech material to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and writes a twice-monthly column for the Orange County Register and

Copyright 2004 Doug Gamble




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