Wilkes faculty members react to presidential debates

Shawn Carey, Staff Writer

With the 2012 Election Day weeks away, the pressure is on for national debates. Thus far, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have met twice and their running mates, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, have also squared off.

In light of the recent debates, three Wilkes faculty members with expertise in politics examine the performances of Obama and Romney.

The first televised debate was highly anticipated and many were able to see the candidates together for the first time. Many viewers wanted to see where the candidates stood on issues and what they would do as president.

“In the first debate, I went in with an open mind because the president is so well known and Mitt Romney has never really come across visually and vocally as a strong person,” professor of communications Bradford Kinney, who specializes in political rhetoric, said.

Many believed Obama had an edge in the debates because of his speaking ability, but others believed Romney would do better because of his earlier campaign start for the primary.

Thomas Baldino, professor of political science said, “I was looking at the first debate as an opportunity to see how each candidate reacted in real time. What I watched was one candidate who was prepared and the other candidate who appeared not prepared.”

Professor of communications Jane Elmes-Crahall, who also specializes in political rhetoric, said it appeared Romney had a better chance with undecided voters than the president.

“I was hoping we would see a clarification of what was starting after the conventions, where the president seemed to be emerging and had a pretty solid lead and Governor Romney did OK, but was still being seen as connecting with undecided voters,” Elmes-Crahall said.

Coming off the first debate, many thought that Obama was not his typical self and that he was not prepared.

“I noticed that (Obama) wasn’t scripted,” Kinney said. “He seemed nervous, he seemed unsure of himself and he seemed like he did not want to be there.”

Many also believed that Romney was riding a wave of confidence from Obama’s sub-par performance.

“Mitt Romney was now seen as a viable person and much more relatable then he had been going into that first debate,” Elmes-Crahall said. “The president had a series of bad mistakes in terms of how he presented himself in the first debate.”

In the first debate the moderator, Jim Lehrer, was viewed by many as passive and not in control of the candidates.

“He let the debate get out of hand completely,” Kinney said.

With Romney’s performance in the first debate, Baldino said many voters seemed to take notice.

“The outcome of the debate was a shift in the polls by as much as four points in some polls,” Baldino said.

Meanwhile, Elmes-Crahall said the vice presidential debate is viewed by many as a debate that does not affect the overall race.

“Vice presidential debates are fun, they always have been. I doubt that they changed a single vote,” Elmes-Crahall said. “They are very telling in terms of the campaign and how well it’s going and they do have the potential of being very important if one of them becomes president.”

Biden, during the debate, seemed to be sneering and laughing to certain issues and some of the answers given by Ryan, which Baldino said was expected as it is typical of his nature.

“Biden was Biden, more under control then he is sometimes, he showed his passion and he was articulate on issues without putting his foot in his mouth,” said Baldino. “Everybody expected him to put his foot in his mouth.”

Baldino also commented on Ryan’s performance in the debate.

“Ryan had to look competent, most people didn’t really know much about him,” Baldino said. “So he came across as confident.”

In the third debate many expected a comeback by Obama and a more aggressive moderator.

“The momentum had to be shifted for this election would start becoming clearer,” Elmes-Crahall said. “So in the second (debate), my expectations were framed on what are they going to do strategically to change the momentum, if you are on the Democratic side.”

Kinney said the second debate was critical for Obama to change his image for voters.

“This debate became critical, the president has to change a visual image that people have,” Kinney said, “He came out and you could see he was prepared.”

Kinney commented on how effective Obama’s arguments were but also how well Romney was able to return them.

“He threw some of the hardest body blows at Romney,” Kinney, said. “What impressed me was Romney took them and returned them.”

With only one debate left, many are waiting to see what happens in the last debate on foreign affairs.

“The third debate in this election is the determining outcome and it happens close to the election,” Elmes-Crahall said. “Foreign affairs is not an area of strength right now for the Obama Administration.”

The third and final presidential debate was held Monday, Oct. 22, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.