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Election 2000: Debates Could Prove Decisive in Close ElectionAired October 2, 2000 - 1:07 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The next president will likely have a big say in the Supreme Court if justices retire. So let's move on and talk about presidential politics. This is the eve of the first debate, and we find the two main candidates in the hottest of dead heats. The latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll could not be closer. Democratic nominee Al Gore is picked by 45 percent of likely voters, and so is Republican nominee George W. Bush. That only raises the stakes for the presidential face-offs, the first of which is tomorrow night in Boston.
But do debates signify anything about a candidate's ability to govern?
CNN'S Chris Black reports the answer is, well, debatable.
CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Presidential debates are about scoring points.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1980)
RONALD REAGAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACK: And sometimes about making mistakes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1975)
GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACK: But do they have anything to do with the business of governing? Former President George Bush, a veteran of five nationally televised presidential debates, says no.
GEORGE BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: If there was a guy that stuttered and couldn't say -- finish a sentence and yet is brilliant, contribution as a public servant or an academic or whatever. I mean, why should that one thing be mandatory?
BLACK: Bush isn't alone in asking that question. Among experts in debates and the presidency, opinion is also divided. Some say debating skills have little to do with the day-to-day job. But others say debates reveal important clues about what kind of president a contender might become.
PROF. ALLAN LICHTMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: In 1980, Ronald Reagan, in the debate, kind of de-demonized himself. He was being portrayed as this dangerous right-wing radical who would press the nuclear button. In the debate, of course, he came off as safe, sure of himself.
BLACK: This historian says debates also shed light on larger issues.
LICHTMAN: It might be trivial that George Bush looked at his watch in the public debate, but that was kind of emblematic of a president who was a bit disconnected and whom really didn't seem to have clear solutions to the domestic problems that were confronting the country at the time.
BLACK: An author of four books on presidential debates insists the skills required to be a good debater are virtually required of a good president.
SIDNEY KRAUS, CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY: It seems to me that if you're articulate and if you know how to organize, present an argument, I think that those are skills that we want in a president.
BLACK: Finally, the candidate who got the better of Mr. Bush in 1992 said debates had everything to do with what kind of president he became.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am convinced that the debates that I went through, especially those three in 1992, actually helped me to be a better president.
BLACK (on camera): All the experts agree on one thing: Debates are politically important. And in a close election, they can prove to be decisive.
Chris Black, CNN, Washington.
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