First presidential debate tonight

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and President George W. Bush square off tonight in Coral Gables in the first of three televised debates before the Nov. 2 election.

The most recent Gallup poll shows Bush leading Kerry, the Democratic nominee, but the USF community thinks Bush has no reason to be comfortable yet.

“Bush has a lead in the Gallup polls and he may have an edge, but anything goes,” said J. Edwin Benton, political science professor. “He could turn out to be a colossal failure.”

Tonight’s debate could be the most crucial of the three scheduled within the next two weeks because the topic focuses on foreign policy — the issue that polls show is most important to Americans.

“People still need to be reassured that we have a cool, calm and collected leader who is competent and isn’t rash, someone who has a plan and stays on course,” Benton said.

The Kerry campaign has been on the defensive ever since President Bush announced Kerry should debate with himself and portrayed Kerry as an indecisive candidate with no resolution for any of the nation’s problems.

John Duddy, the president of the College Democrats on campus, thinks that if Kerry is assertive and goes after Bush he’ll be fine.

Benton said that may not be an easy task, however, considering that President Bush will ask the American public, about Kerry, “Is this the leader you want for our nation?”

However, Benton advises that voters watch out for the candidates’ performance on camera. He mentioned the Carter and Reagan debate when Carter lost control. Sometimes, Benton said, this can really hurt a campaign.

USF political science professor Susan MacManus believes President Bush’s lead in the Gallup poll puts pressure on Kerry.

The method of attack both candidates should take, according to MacManus, is to continue to address their most passionate supporters while aiming at the ones who aren’t decided.

She added that most people won’t watch the entire 90-minute broadcast, but after a few days the polls will reflect how people reacted to the debate.

“I think after people let the information sink in for a few days by listening to the radio and the commentary, they will make their minds up,” MacManus said.

The debate will be held at the University of Miami and will be moderated by Jim Lehrer, anchor and executive editor of The News Hour on PBS.

The next debate will take place on Oct. 8 in Missouri, in a town-meeting format in which the candidates will take questions from undecided voters from the St. Louis metropolitan area.

The third and final debate occurs Oct. 13 in Arizona and will revolve around domestic issues.