The debates: high stakes, sound bites and zingers
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McCain's "The fundamentals of the economy are strong" sound bite could be the one-liner responsible for Obama's camp turning the polls upside down in the past week.Skip to next paragraph
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Taking a step back and looking at why sound bites are important, put yourself in the media's shoes. How do reporters construct an article? How do TV news producers put together a video package? Or even in simpler terms, how do you tell a story to your office mate or your child? You pull out the highlights.
Look at the Huffington Post this morning. It screams sound-bite.
A headline reads: "McCain: I'm not for privatization of Social Security." That is contrasted with a 2004 sound-bite from the Republican candidate: "Without privatization, I don't see how you can possibly over time make sure young Americans are able to receive Social Security benefits."
Voila! An instant flip-flop story.
That's not to say that substance isn't important. Obviously, it is. Substance is the foundation. If both candidates present themselves well, the best sound bite can be a momentum changer. And a serious flub during a debate or while speaking off the cuff has the potential to sink a candidate. What both campaigns want to do is get through these unscripted events unscathed.
As Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger recounted, "You know, all you have to do is hold your own in these things, because nobody wins or loses these debates on points. They do it on perception."
So as you prepare for today's NFL action or tomorrow's work day, the two campaign's very effective communications teams are in zinger-land. Writing, rewriting, editing, stealing, borrowing, studying, and presenting zingers to be displayed this Friday. Most of them will not make the final cut, but we're sure to see some of their handiwork.
Hey, I got a life!
But then again, maybe no one will watch these things at all.
"As seemingly designed, millions of Americans are expected to not watch it, Friday nights in autumn often being set aside for things like high school football instead of watching Washington guys in suits arguing on TV."
Back to the battlegrounds
And after the debates? Well, assuming both campaigns minimize the gaffes, the election will be decied where it is always decided: on the ground in a handful of swing states. So keep your eye on the polls in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, and a few others. And be ready for another close one.
"Under four distinct scenarios, each of them possible given recent polls, the United States may again hold an election for president and end up without one," Burr writes. "The possibility of a tie vote in the Electoral College - leaving McCain and Obama each with 269 votes - may toss the decision of who is the next leader of the free world to the House of Representatives."
If that happens, the presidential debates will just be a footnote in this wild election year.