Viewer's guide to tonight's debate
The goals: Straight talk vs. talking straight
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Here are some questions -- and answers -- framing tonight's second
Q: What should viewers be looking for in Round 2 tonight?
A: Remember John McCain's bus -- the "Straight Talk Express?" Gore has to prove to voters he's a straight talker.
Last week, every poll showed Gore won the first debate. But it was what's called a ``Pyrrhic victory'' -- a victory achieved at too great a cost. Gore won the debate and immediately started slipping in the polls.
Voters said they didn't find Gore trustworthy. His serial embellishments
reminded people of what they don't like about Clinton -- that he's not a
straight talker. Gore's got to repair his credibility tonight.
Q: How does he do that?
A: First of all, get his facts straight. Don't embellish.
Gore has to try to throw Bush on the defensive. He has to show he
understands Bush's tax plan and prescription drug plan better than Bush does -- but do that without being a "smarty pants."
The Gore campaign is getting tough on Bush's record in Texas. Watch to
see if Gore takes up that theme tomorrow night -- or will he leave the dirty
work to Joe Lieberman and the Democratic Party?
Given the news this week, a lot of the debate could be taken up with
world affairs. That's very good news for Gore. He's experienced and
knowledgeable about the Middle East and the Balkans. Bush is not. Watch for
Gore to try to steer the debate in an international direction.
Q: What's Bush's problem?
A: If people wonder whether Gore's a straight talker, they wonder if Bush
can talk straight.
The Democrats are already making fun of the "bumbling babbling Bush." Bush avoided any shocking factual errors in the first debate, but he still has to get through two more.
Bush doesn't have to show he's smarter or more knowledgeable than Gore.
That won't happen. He simply has to show voters he's smart enough and
knowledgeable enough to be president.
Bush had better be prepared to defend his tax cut plan, his social
security plan, his prescription drug plan. If he seems confused about what
he's proposing, he's a goner.
World affairs will be tricky for Bush. It's the topic where he seems
least sure of himself. Watch for Bush to name drop. He'll mention Dick Cheney
and Colin Powell and George Shultz and Condoleezza Rice to try to reassure
voters that he'll have knowledgeable and experienced people around him.
Bush's biggest challenge is to make the case for change. At a time of
peace and prosperity, why should people want change? John F. Kennedy did that
very skillfully in 1960 by talking about the missile gap.
But the Cold War is over. Bush has got to figure out some other way to
make the case for change because, bottom line, that is what he's selling.