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McCain, Obama set to lock horns tonight
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Casey Harrigan, the associate director of debate at the University of Georgia, explains what it means when a politician dances around an issue during a debate.

The presidential candidates have enough to debate without having to debate debating.

After much talk, the first of the presidential debates is set to air tonight at 9 p.m., and many local residents said they will be tuning in for the rare chance to see the candidates square off on the issues.

The volatile campaign season seemingly peaked Wednesday when presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced he wanted to postpone the much-anticipated presidential debate, just two days before the big night.

In a move seen by some as strong leadership and others as a cheap political trick, McCain issued a statement saying he thought politicking should be put aside to help find a solution to the nation’s mounting financial crisis.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said he thought the debate should go on, because it’s important the nation hear about the financial crisis from its next president.

"I was really surprised when he made that move and I don’t know how wise it is," said Gainesville State College political science Professor Douglas Young. "McCain is really taking quite a risk to say he doesn’t want to participate in the first of the three debates."

Young said while he appreciates McCain’s concern for the economy and his willingness to achieve a bipartisan solution to the financial crisis, he thinks Obama was right when he said part of being a president was multitasking and handling several crises at once.

"I’m sort of at a loss why Sen. McCain can’t do the work in Washington ... with Republican and Democratic colleagues and then come back Friday evening to Mississippi to debate for a couple of hours," Young said.

Casey Harrigan, the associate director of debate at the University of Georgia, said there are a number of things viewers can expect from the candidates during tonight’s debate.

"Each candidate’s got their own objectives they’re going to try to push," Harrigan said.

"McCain is going to try to emphasize clearly his experience, which has been a theme throughout the whole campaign. And he’s making a huge push to turn the ongoing economic crisis into a political advantage. I mean there’s a question he’s even going to show up to the debate because he’s been focusing so much on the government bailout."

And Harrigan said while McCain tries to use the economy as a strength, Obama will likely point out how it is actually one of his weaknesses.

"For Obama, he’s going to continue to paint McCain as disconnected from everyday problems. That’s kind of his counter spin to McCain’s economic angle. ... McCain, with his houses and kind of history of wealth, is not really as in touch as Obama is. And something that’s going to be important for Obama is to revise his message of change. ... I suspect that his advisors are going to work in a way for him to use that message to respond to McCain’s claims about experience."

And while the winner of most debates is decided by a judge, Harrigan said in the presidential debates, it’s more about what the public thinks than beating your opponent’s arguments.

"As far as established momentum going forward, the debates will be very important," Harrigan said.

And only time will tell who the better debater will be.

Young said he believes Obama is a "superb" speaker, but may not fare as well without a prepared text. He thinks McCain may prove to be a more skilled debater.

But Harrigan felt Obama would likely have the advantage in the debates.

"McCain has proven to be the candidate who has been caught without an answer," Harrigan said. "While Obama — he’s the one who can respond with, ‘I’m glad you asked that question.'"

While many are ready to see the top contenders interact face to face, others would rather see a debate with all presidential candidates involved.

Kerry Stewart, an associate professor of political science at Gainesville State College, said he would love to see other parties represented in the televised debates.

"Third party candidates virtually have no chance to be heard," Stewart said. "And I know quite a few people who are going to be voting Libertarian this time."

Other Hall County residents, like John Mercer, said they are excited about seeing vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin debate.

"I’m particularly interested in seeing the vice presidential debates," Mercer said.

But in Friday’s debate, he would like to hear the presidential candidates discuss energy independence.

Lynn Howser said she would like to watch the debate but won’t be able to. She thinks the Friday night time slot is inconvenient.

"They could’ve done it any other night of the week," She said. "More people would’ve watched."

Tom McAllister said he just hopes the candidates can "get rid of the sound byte rhetoric" and give some real answers to the questions they are asked.

But unfortunately, Harrigan said that is unlikely.

"Politicians, as a category, are very good at responding to questions without answering a question," he said. "The closer you are to an election, the less willing a politician is to take a stand on anything."

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