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Sept. 29, 2004

 

U-M experts available to discuss presidential debates

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the presidential debates, which have become increasingly important for Democratic candidate John Kerry who trails President Bush in some national polls.

"The debates are more important for Kerry because he is behind (in the polls) and because many potential voters have yet to see him in a non-scripted environment," said Arthur Lupia, political science professor.

J. David Singer, political science professor emeritus, agreed: "The debate offers Kerry a splendid opportunity to regain lost ground."

Potential voters who did not watch the Democratic National Convention may be seeing Kerry live for the first time, U-M experts said.

"The first debate and the last week before Election Day (Nov. 2) are the most important for candidates to crystallize their messages," said Vincent Hutchings, assistant political science professor. "In addition, these are the times when voters pay the most attention to the candidates."

But Bush is a better known quantity, Lupia said. "Almost everyone saw him in 2000, after 9/11 and with respect to the Iraq war. Most people have made up their minds about Bush as a president."

The debates might be pivotal in providing undecided voters in battleground states a reason to vote for a certain candidate, said Raymond Tanter, political science professor emeritus.

"Political campaigns go negative because that is where the votes against the adversary are," Tanter said. "So expect increasingly harsh attacks from each camp days before the first debate."

The first debate will focus on national security and the Iraq war, as well as the war on terrorism in particular. Tanter said Bush will paint Kerry as inconsistent and weak on national security issues. Kerry is likely to paint Bush as having misled the American people about the severity and imminence of threat from Iraq, that he misused the war on terrorism as a political weapon to justify the Iraq War, and mismanaged both, Tanter said.

There is substantially more pressure on Kerry to perform well in the debates. Bush can survive a debate gaffe---his partisans will forgive him for misspeaking, Lupia said. Several gaffes could effectively end the contest for Kerry, particularly if they reinforce the perception that he wavers on important issues, Lupia said.

The presidential debates are Thursday (Sept. 30), Oct. 8 and Oct. 13. The vice presidential debate, featuring incumbent Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards, will be Oct. 5.

Expert contacts:

Hutchings: (734) 764-6591; http://ipumich.temppublish.com/public/experts/ExpDisplay.php?ExpID=373

Lupia: (734) 647-7549; http://polisci.lsa.umich.edu/faculty/alupia.html

Singer, (734) 763-6590; http://polisci.lsa.umich.edu/faculty/jdsinger.html

Tanter: (202) 333-7346; (202) 320-8434 cell; http://ipumich.temppublish.com/public/experts/ExpDisplay.php?ExpID=746

Kenneth Kollman, political science professor, (734) 936-0062; http://polisci.lsa.umich.edu/faculty/kkollman.html

Contact: Jared Wadley
Phone: (734) 936-7819
E-mail: jwadley@umich.edu