McCain's Debate Gambit

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Jun 13, 2008 at 15:45


Obama smartly rejects McCain's proposal for ten faux "town hall" style joint appearances:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday rejected Republican rival John McCain's proposal for 10 joint town-hall appearances, offering instead to have just one on the July 4 holiday.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said he offered to meet McCain in five joint appearances between now and the Nov. 4 election. But only one of those was a town-hall meeting, plus three traditional debates and an in-depth debate on foreign policy.

The McCain campaign said Obama's offer was to hold the single town hall on Independence Day - which likely would have resulted in less attention while Americans are on holiday. McCain told reporters traveling with him in New Jersey that was "a very disappointing response."

McCain had said the more intimate town-hall format, a give-and-take between a candidate and the audience, would allow real interaction with voters and would be more revealing than formal televised debates. Town halls are also McCain's favorite style of campaigning and would allow him to get free media attention alongside the better-funded Obama.

McCain stood to gain quite a bit if Obama either accepted the proposal, or even if Obama has countered with something like five joint "town hall" appearances. Here is what McCain could have gained:

  • Free Media: Obama will probably raise something like $80M in June, pushing him well clear of McCain in cash on hand, even when DNC and RNC numbers are figured in. This will allow Obama to have far more paid media, not to mention staff in all 50 states, plus 3,600 "organizing fellows" spread across 17 highly targeted states. Throw in the 200 full-time organizers from the DNC's fifty state strategy, and this will swamp anything that McCain and the RNC can hope to match.

    However, if there had been ten joint appearances, plus three more traditional debates, plus the VP debate, plus the conventions, then McCain could have basically cancelled out Obama's fundraising advantage with an enormous amount of free media. Taken together, with the three-day pre-game, post-game, and actual townhall coverage, these fourteen "debates," plus the conventions, would consume about 50 news cycles between now and the middle of October. Considering the Olympics in August will turn attention away from the campaign for two weeks, this would have consumed between half and two-thirds of the campaign news cycles between July 4th and the second week of October. Obama would have been crazy to pass up his huge resource advantages and instead have the focus of the campaign be these McCain suggested "debates."

  • Canceling Obama's rally advantage: Obama's oratory skills, plus his ability to attract crowds, dwarf McCain's. if the campaign is focused on a ludicrous number of debates instead, the clear advantage Obama has in this area would also be cancelled out. Instead of the clear contrast in excitement and inspiration that Obama was able to earn on June 3rd, McCain could turn the focus on the campaign into his preferred style of campaigning. This would have been a big advantage to McCain.

  • Making McCain look like a leader: Since the whole thing was McCain's idea, if Obama had simply gone along with it, this jam packed debate schedule would have made McCain look like a leader with ideas, and Obama an inexperienced follower. So, it would have reinforced McCain's central campaign message, which would have been a large negative.

  • McCain wanted Obama to reject at least some of the ten debates: McCain started with an absurd number of debates--10 townhalls plus the three other debates--so that there was no way Obama would accept all of them.   As such, even if McCain got maybe half, like seven or eight, he would still get all of the above advantages plus make it look like Obama was still scared to debate him. As such, the only smart response was to come back with a low number, as the Obama campaign just did.

The Obama campaign did the right thing here. While I would like to see more than three debates myself, considering how repetitive the 20+ nomination campaign debates were, 14 would also be too high. Hopefully, they will settle on a number around five or six, plus the VP debate. If there were six debates, they could be divided as follows:

  1. Iraq, Afghanistan, and general military policy
  2. Other foreign policy, including trade, energy, global warming and gas prices
  3. Education, Health Care and Social Security
  4. Civil rights, reproductive rights, religion
  5. Ethics, lobbying, transparency, and governmental accountability
  6. Taxes, budget, jobs and infrastructure

Or something like that. It would be fun to see more debates, and more detail. However, ten town halls plus three debates is absurd. Something in the middle, like six plus the VP debate, makes a lot more sense.  

Chris Bowers :: McCain's Debate Gambit

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I like it. Maybe different style for each one... (0.00 / 0)
...traditional, sat behind a desk, town-hall, Lincoln-Douglas etc. Such a shame there will be no Tim Russert to moderate. RIP.

Yeah... (0.00 / 0)
He should have come back with 5 but only two as town hall, and three as Lincoln Douglas back to back speeches.  McCain would get CRUSHED in the LD style... regardless if Obama goes first or last.  

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Tag team (4.00 / 1)
I'd like to see a debate where the nominees are with their VP selections.

With Vince McMahon as special guest ref/moderator (0.00 / 0)
No chance. No chance in hell!

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My GOD! That's Sen' CLINTON's music! (0.00 / 0)
How about a science and technology debate?

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Better Yet (0.00 / 0)
Each candidate gets a wrestler... They can have Vince... Give me Mick Foley!  I'd love to see him pull MR Socko out and go after McCain.

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McCain knows as much about science .. (0.00 / 0)
as he does economics!!

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if only they had nominated Huckabee, (4.00 / 1)
then we really could've had a science debate!

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If we learned anything from those 19 primary debates... (0.00 / 0)
...it's that the choice of moderators/questioners matter.

Too many of those 19 debates were dominated by Washington-insider media personalities posing questions from a corporate CW perspective.

Obama was particularly burned by this (we'll never forget the infamous ABC debate), so he should push for better moderators/questioners. No inside-the-beltway media types, please! (with all apologies to Tim Russert, God bless)

Check out Future Roots for organic rock'n'roll goodness from Oregon...


We also learned (0.00 / 0)
That many debates over a year and half was one of the more BORING aspects of the campaign.  TOO MANY DEBATES!

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what happened (0.00 / 0)
to the no-moderator debate idea? the so-called "Lincoln/Douglas" debates? these "town hall" things are so fake, i've got no problem with them being nixed. but the TV reality game shows that are called "debates" these days are even worse, they're like calligraphy exams or something, entirely about satisfying the arbitrary expectations of the courtiers.

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

Fun Debates? We Already Know... (0.00 / 0)
...what McCain will say!!

To each of your debate topics -

1. Bomb, bomb bomb!
2. Drill, drill, drill!
3. Privatize, privatize, privatize!
4. Flipflop, flipflop, flipflop!
5. Spy, spy, spy!
6. Cut, cut, cut!


open up the debates (0.00 / 0)
it sure would be nice (and certainly more people would watch), if we had at least one debate that was open to the major third party candidates: Nader, Barr, McKinney, and maybe Baldwin, all of whom should be on enough ballots to theoretically get to 270 EV, and all of whom would add texture, substance, and liveliness to any debate.  I'm not advocating 5 debates with 5 or 6 candidates, but at least one.

Sadly, the (bi)partisan commission on debates will likely do everything in its power to exclude the voices of the greatest consumer advocate and gadfly of all time, as well as two former congresscritters from either side of the aisle who both arguably have more experience than Obama.  In that event, I would hope that CNN or MSNBC would televise one of the 4-way third party debates that will likely happen: with Barr and Baldwin fighting for the Ron Paul vote and Nader and McKinney fighting for the anti-war and Green vote, a 4 way debate will be much more wide ranging, informative and, frankly, interesting that a carefully controlled Obama-McCain corporate 90 second speech snoozefest.


Couldn't agree more! (0.00 / 0)

After the horrors of Bush/Cheney I've become more of a democrat, but in the 90s I was firmly independent and have always believe we need more than the 2 major parties (I can't praise Minnesotans enough for electing Jesse Ventura).  Having a debate with all of them would be nice.

This debate issue should also serve to remind us not to under estimate the McCain campaign.  If looked at in depth the proposal might not be all that great, but it certainly SOUNDS great and helps McCain look like a "man of the people" and such.


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