News Release: Arts and Humanities, Faculty Experts, Politics

Oct. 8,  2008

Debate Expert: Obama Won By Not Losing

The second presidential debate Oct. 7 was a study of stark contrasts in ideology, style and body language despite the lack of fireworks, says Melissa Maxcy Wade, executive director of forensics (debate) as head of Emory's Barkley Forum. 

"Barack Obama won because he didn't lose, but there was no knockout punch from either one. They can both deliver their lines, but neither one knocks it out of the park. This may be strategic on Obama's part, to be calm and cool," Wade says.

"I felt John McCain was so much stronger in the first debate," she says. "McCain had some good arguments, like his mortgage relief proposal that was pitched as new and sexy, but he didn't follow through thematically throughout the debate."

Bill Newnam, associate director and debate coach for the Barkley Forum at Emory, says McCain was faced with a near impossible task.

"McCain needed to hurt Obama and offer people real solutions to the problems they face. He needed to do both and he did not succeed," Newnam says.

"The format surprisingly played more to Obama's strength, and McCain couldn't risk making truly personal attacks in a town hall setting," Newnam says. "Overall, Obama is in no worse position than he was before the debate and probably stronger."

Body language strong factor in debates, says expert

Wade, one of only three university debate coaches in the United States who has served on the National Associated Press Presidential Debate Evaluation Panel for every U.S. presidential election since 1976, says she is paying more attention to body language than in years past.

"There is such a startling contrast between the two candidates," she says. "McCain was obviously coached to stand up and not sit. McCain needs to be energetic – but contained – and he did not receive enough training on how to do so, which played in to his stereotype of being erratic as he moved around, sometimes appearing aimless."    

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