Interview of Gordon Mitchell by Walt Golden

Topic: Presidential Debates

KQV Radio (1410 AM), Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

October 6, 2004, 7:30 a.m.


Walt Golden (WG): On the live line right now is Gordon Mitchell, Pitt's debate director. He's taken a look at things after the debate last night. Mr. Mitchell, good morning to you, what did you think of the whole thing?


Gordon Mitchell (GM): Good morning, Walt. The expected contrast in styles came through vividly. Edwards flashed his smiling disposition. Cheney struck up a fatherly tone. But instead of seeming like the affable parent, Cheney came across like the irked father who chides his son for missing curfew. The vice president chastised Kerry and Edwards for missing too many Senate votes. I thought one of the best lines of the night was when Cheney said, "In my capacity as vice president, I am also president of the Senate, the presiding officer." Cheney then said, "The first time I met you was when you walked on the stage tonight." Walt, that turns out to be a bold-faced lie. Apparently the two did meet before. There is a photograph of Cheney and Edwards standing together at a National Prayer Breakfast on February 1, 2001. Cheney even began his remarks there by thanking Edwards for attending the prayer breakfast. Cheney has some explaining to do today on that point.


WG: Did they both stick to the standard speeches? With Edwards I was noticing a lot of excerpts from the standard speech. What did you hear?


GM: Well Walt, only half of the debate was on Iraq, but the candidates invested most of their energy in discussing that issue. About halfway through the debate when the moderator turned the discussion to domestic issues, Cheney and Edwards kind of ran out of gas like racecar drivers who had missed a pit stop. This suggests to me that Iraq is now an emotional, personal issue in this election. I counted 19 personal attacks in the first part of the debate, which focused on foreign policy, but only three in the second half on domestic policy. This makes for debates like last night that generate more heat than light, and it also primes the electorate to vote more on gut instinct instead of dispassionate analysis.


WG: Is this one going to make a big difference in the campaign, since the race is so close?


GM: It depends on how the last two debates play out. Cheney certainly gave Bush something to build on in the next debate. Edwards built on Kerry's strong performance in the first debate. One of the interesting things is all of the fact checking that is going on. There are a couple of points that are coming up for particular scrutiny. One is that Cheney said, "I have not suggested there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11." That actually turns out to be false. Three times on the television show Meet the Press between December 2001 and September 2002, Cheney strongly suggested a connection by asserting that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi officials in Prague. On the other hand, Edwards said during the debate that Iraq has cost $200 billion. That's actually not true. The government has spent $120 billion, and there are plans to spend $54 billion more. So the $200 billion figure was a bit of an overstatement by Edwards.


WG: And that is the number they have used all along. Clear winner, one way or the other?


GM: Like I said, I think each candidate put the number one guy on the ticket in position to build on what they said in the next two debates. I wouldn't say there was a clear winner one way or the other.


WG: So they each did their job, essentially?


GM: I think part of it depends on people sorting through all the disjointed claims that were made. The format made it somewhat difficult to do that, because they kept going back to issues that were discussed in previous questions. There wasn't much of a flow to this debate. That, combined with the almost night and day contrast in terms of the first part having a lot of energy on foreign policy, while in the second part, the energy dropped off significantly. I'll be curious to see, as the rest of the debates unfold and domestic policy becomes more of a central issue in the campaign, how Bush and Kerry will deal with that.


WG: All right. Thanks for the perspective. Pitt's debate director Gordon Mitchell on the KQV live line.