TO: Interested Parties
FR: Bill Burton, National Press Secretary
RE: The Town Hall Presidential Debate
DA: October 7, 2008
"'When are you going to take the gloves off?' a John McCain supporter wanted to know this afternoon. 'How about Tuesday night?' McCain replied, grinning and looking ahead to his crucial second debate with Democrat Barack Obama." Washington Post, 10/2/08
John McCain is running out of time for a game-changing event. In the latest sign of desperation, his campaign admitted just yesterday that if they "keep talking about the economic crisis, they're going to lose." It's our view that the American people are already worried about losing – their homes, their jobs and their health care – and it's up to the candidates at this debate to demonstrate who is best equipped to make sure that they can get ahead again.
In order to change the dynamics of this race, we anticipate that McCain will launch his nastiest attacks and continue to lie about Barack Obama's record and his vision to fundamentally change our country. We don't know if McCain will continue his refusal to even look at Obama on stage -- like in their first debate -- but we fully expect that his "turn the page" strategy to ignore the economy will be seen in full view for 90 minutes of character attacks against Barack Obama.
The fact is, McCain has erratically been all over the map in recent weeks, telling Americans that the fundamentals of the economy are strong only days before claiming to suspend his campaign and warning of another depression. John McCain just doesn't get it. The American people aren't interested in nasty, false attacks, and they're not interested in four more years of Bush policies. But that's all he's offering.
If all he does is attack Barack Obama, as he's said he'll do, it will be yet another colossal missed opportunity. In the face of those attacks, Barack Obama will continue to offer steady leadership, and talk about his plan to give real relief to the middle class and create good jobs here in America.
When it comes to sheer format, we enter today's debate the decided underdog. John McCain does extremely well in town hall settings. It's been his favorite format throughout his career and we think that he will of course do very well. See below for more reviews of John McCain's town hall performances.
From the Wall Street Journal:
The Town Hall Format Of The Debate Favors McCain. "McCain finally gets his long-demanded joint town-hall meeting with Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday night in Nashville, Tenn. The Republican's performance in the second of three presidential debates -- the only one held in the format he tends to favor -- could help determine his ability to stay competitive in a race that seems to have moved against the Arizona senator over the past week."
From the Washington Post:
McCain Is Engaged In "Especially Serious Preparations" For The Town Hall Debate, Which His Former Campaign Manager Said Is "Probably Going To Be The Best Kind Of Forum He Is Going To Be In." "McCain appears to be engaged in especially serious preparations for Tuesday's debate, one of his last opportunities to change the trajectory of a race that may be slipping out of his control. He is certainly doing more formal preparation than he did before last month's debate in Mississippi. … 'McCain has done so many of these over the years that it's probably going to be the best kind of forum he is going to be in,' said his former campaign manager Terry Nelson. 'It's a great opportunity for him and the campaign.' … An open question is how aggressively McCain will take the fight to Obama on Tuesday night. One senior McCain adviser said Sunday that he expects both candidates to draw contrasts with each other on the economy, but he seemed to suggest McCain would stay away from personal attacks. This official said McCain is looking forward to the debate because he likes the freewheeling town hall format, and he expects it to focus on the candidates' economic plans."
Fordham Professor Paul Levinson: "The Town Hall Debate Is McCain's Best Debate Format." "The town hall debate is McCain's best debate format," said Paul Levinson, a professor at Fordham University in New York. "Obama ... clearly is a much better speaker to a huge crowd or an interviewer (than he is at a debate)."
From the San Fransico Chronicle:
Communications Expert Ruth Sherman Said That McCain Has The Advantage In Town Hall Formats And Is Far More Comfortable And Experienced In What Can Be A Challenging Setting. "Communications expert and author Ruth Sherman said that, in normal times, McCain would have an advantage in Tuesday's town hall format- he's done more than 100 such meetings, and is far more comfortable and experienced in what can be a challenging setting.