How Candidates Can Win Next Debate Is the final debate destined to be boring?'s John Dickerson discusses how the two presidential candidates can infuse some spice in the upcoming event and come out on top. It's not easy to attack your rival — and get away with it, he says.
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How Candidates Can Win Next Debate

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How Candidates Can Win Next Debate

How Candidates Can Win Next Debate

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This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. The economy has become the issue for the campaign, both candidates proposing possible solutions.

BRAND: John Dickerson is the chief political analyst for He's here now. And John, we've heard just a brief economic analysis of both plans. How do you think that they'll do politically?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Analyst, Well, you know, both Senator Obama and Senator McCain are targeting their plans towards regular Americans. They're trying to take this large financial mess and make some sense of it for regular people. Then, at the same time, once they made sense of it, they want to say, here's how we're helping you. The proposals at the moment are aimed at peoples' savings.

Senator Obama is also putting some money towards giving a $3,000 tax credit for new hires. They're sort of churning out proposals. Senator McCain has a proposal that removes the tax penalties if you are forced to withdraw, once you've retired, withdraw from your 401K plan.

And the idea here is to give people some kind of immediate relief to show that they're on the case. But overall, when it comes to the economy, Senator Obama has benefitted. Voters turned to him and trust him more on this issue, and there's nothing that Senator McCain has done recently to change their minds on that.

CHADWICK: You know, Professor Roubini just told us that Congress should pass a stimulus package now. Don't even wait for the election. Would that be politically possible now, just three weeks before the election?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, the House is holding hearings on a stimulus package. It could be politically possible for this reason: All politicians of all parties are scrambling - and we see it here with the two presidential candidates - to give some indication to regular people that they're doing their jobs, and that they're going to do something that's going to help regular people.

Now, what the shape of the package looks like and the rest of it would be a complicated argument, but I think there is the will to do something in both parties that adds more sort of benefits for regular folks. It is still the perception out in the land that all that's been done so far has been to shore up Wall Street bankers, so there is a desire in politicians - or among politicians to do something that actually infuses some cash to regular folks.

BRAND: John, the third and final presidential debate is tomorrow night, and are we expecting anything different than we've seen in the first two debates?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, the third presidential debate will be about domestic issues, which tends to favor Barack Obama. In the polls, voters look to him on these issues. And Senator McCain has had some difficulty talking about domestic issues. He's not as comfortable on them as he is on foreign policy.

There is also the imperative that Senator McCain is behind Senator Obama, and he's behind both in the national polls and in crucial battleground states. He's got to do something to change the dynamic. It's difficult to do that in a debate, but the debate also presents the last opportunity for him to reach a wide audience and sow these kinds of doubts about Senator Obama's character. So there is a lot of pressure on him and from within his own party to do something that shakes up this race tomorrow night.

CHADWICK: Political Journalist Jeff Greenfield, writing at, says these have just been very disappointing debates. I wonder if you see them that way, and if there's any idea that maybe they could inject some, I don't know, flavor or something in there?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, one of the ways you can inject flavor is that, if you let the two of them go at each other, and Jim Lehrer in the first debate tried to do that. The rules were set up to let the two candidates question each other, and they both kind of backed off. Senator McCain has - there's some pressure for him to not do that this time.

But the reason they back off is because it's very hard and tricky to go negative or be critical of your opponent in front of such a large audience. You can look mean quickly, and that's a problem. So then it falls to the moderator to get in there and mix it up and really hold the two to account.

Again, in the first debate, Jim Lehrer pushed the candidates to say, look, we're in a terrible economic situation. What program is going to be cut? And Senator McCain was slightly candid; that was a little bit risky. Senator Obama ducked and dodged and weaved and bounced and did anything but give a straight answer about what's going to be cut.

Now, they're both going to face massive spending cuts when they implement these programs and when they face the economy that will be given to them, and neither would be candid, and no one wants to be candid at these things.

CHADWICK: The candid John Dickerson at John, thank you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you, Alex.

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