Pitney on the Debates

Professor Pitney was recently quoted on the subject of the upcoming Presidential debates in the Marshal News Messenger. He suggests that the debate experiences of Ronald Reagan provide a learning tool for both side.

When it comes to debates, both Obama and McCain can learn from Reagan, said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California.

A strong debate performance in 1980 against incumbent Jimmy Carter propelled Reagan to a landslide, and “if Obama excels, then the same thing could happen to him,” Pitney said.

Four years later, however, Reagan “stumbled and fumbled” against Walter Mondale in their first debate but ultimately recovered – and stopped a slide in the polls – in the second debate with his famous quip about not making Mondale’s “youth and inexperience” an issue in the campaign. That could be McCain’s recovery model if he stumbles, Pitney said.

But “that was before YouTube,” he added. “Today, any mistake will keep reverberating in cyberspace.”

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