Friday, January 18, 2008

Do the debates matter?

I'll be quite honest. I didn't watch the GOP gubernatorial debate last night. UNC had a home women's basketball game, I'm a season ticket holder, and it wasn't a very hard choice.

I didn't watch the debates on WUNC last week either. I can't remember what I was doing but it seemed more appealing than watching a debate three and a half months before the election and after reading a bunch of press coverage of it I don't think I missed much.

I'm glad these debates are getting a lot of attention from the media. They're certainly better than battling he said/she said press releases. But I don't think they matter very much.

They're mostly being paid attention to by people who are paid to pay attention to them and by folks who are already partisans of one candidate or the other. The press coverage of them is too bland to have much effect on the perceptions people who didn't watch the debates have of the candidates. So I think it's safe to say they're not moving many votes.

The main way they could have an impact is if a candidate said something unfortunate that turned into an instant youtube classic. I would guess that's why Bev Perdue has rejected several debate invitations that Richard Moore has agreed to. When she's focused and on message, Perdue is a very effective and dynamic speaker. But when she veers off path, particularly during her first term as Lieutenant Governor, she can say things that leave people shaking their heads. I have a feeling she'll be at her most disciplined during this campaign but there's no doubt that the fewer debates there are, the less likely she is to make a bad mistake. And a bad mistake by one of the candidates is probably the only way these debates are going to have a real impact.

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