The Art of Debating, and What You the Voter Should Watch For - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

The Art of Debating, and What You the Voter Should Watch For

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) – With voters having heard countless campaign ads and stump speeches from both President Barack Obama and Republican Challenger Mitt Romney in recent months, Political Scientist Tim Dale said both will need to be on their "A" games to make an impression in Wednesday's debate.

"The biggest debate advantage is who can create a contrast," Dale said. "Who can highlight how what they are saying is different than what their opponent is saying, and why is their idea better than what that opponent is proposing."

"The key is to be authentic, to be casual, to be confident," said Dr. Stephen McDougal, who, like Dale, is a Political Science Professor at the UW-La Crosse. "You have to be a master of the facts and to present things in ways that are easily understood by a huge, diverse audience – a television audience."

McDougal added each candidate will perform a balancing act between answering questions and hammering out their main messages or talking points.  

"Each campaign has two audiences they're trying to reach – the supporters they've got and the supporters they want. So the answers to questions tonight will try to court both. Candidates will try to appeal to the base while courting undecided voters."

"The overwhelming tendency in politics is to try and control your message," McDougal added. "You script it out, anticipate lines of attack and plan your responses."

"Both candidates are very knowledgeable and experienced in government policy. So if what we get tonight is a string of empty platitudes that should tell us something about what the nature of that candidate's appeal is," McDougal said.

McDougal also said voters should listen for specific facts and policy details, rather than campaign slogans and emotional rhetoric, to get the most out of tonight's debate.

Dale said he agrees.

"We hear a lot from both candidates about how they're going to do things for the middle class, or do things to create jobs, but there's a major philosophical difference in this campaign about the role of government and how it's responsible for fixing the economy," Dale said. "So I think a good debate watcher is going to track those arguments and decide which argument is more persuasive."  

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