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How the candidates' speaking styles play

McCain is unscripted. Obama is soaring. In these times, both styles have their advantages.

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Both McCain and Obama belong to strains of political oratory that date to the country's founding, says Bruce Gronbeck, an expert on presidential rhetoric at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

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"Obama comes out of the more Puritan tradition – the vision of building a new Israel in the wilderness," he says. "McCain comes out of the Yankee tradition: Once we build a new world, we need practical folks who can help us face the environment, feed ourselves, produce an orderly government, and create a stable society."

If Obama's rhetorical forebears are Abraham Lincoln and Robert Kennedy, says Dr. Gronbeck, McCain's is perhaps Herbert Hoover, who called himself a "master of emergencies."

McCain, like Clinton, has raised questions about whether Obama is more style than substance. But the two are frequently inseparable in American politics, where voters as often act on gut as on a careful analysis of position papers, analysts say. In a USA Today/Gallup Poll last month, voters were slightly more likely to see McCain than they were Obama as a "strong and decisive leader" but far more likely to see Obama as in touch with the needs of ordinary people.

McCain might do well to acknowledge – or even poke fun at – his shortcomings as a speaker, while questioning whether Obama's rousing speeches are a smoke screen for inexperience, says Denise Bostdorff, an expert on political communication at the College of Wooster, in Ohio.

"You will have people who are immediately suspicious if someone is eloquent," she says.

Obama, however, has cast his oratory as an extension of his message. And if one measure is the number of new voters a candidate draws to the polls, Obama has been a runaway success.

"Don't tell me words don't matter," he said at a campaign stop in February, ticking off historymaking lines from speeches by Dr. King and Franklin Roosevelt. "It's true that speeches don't solve all problems, but what is also true is if we cannot inspire the country to believe again then it doesn't matter how many policies and plans we have."

One of the most anticipated moments in the four months till Election Day will be the candidates' first debate. But so far, there isn't one. With their different styles and strengths as speakers, they have been unable to agree on any.