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Mark Zabala

Presidential candidates, Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, met in the second presidential debate on Oct. 11; and in the third and final debate on Oct. 17. Bush seems to be making most of the debates in terms of public opinion, contrary to early predictions.
The first debate, held on Oct. 3, was seen as a victory for Al Gore by most experts, but resulted in a jump in the polls for Bush. This second debate was even worse for Gore, as most saw it as a victory for Bush both in terms of the debate itself and in voter opinion. Bush leads Gore in most major polls, though in many the lead is within the margin of error. In such a close race, the third debate should have delivered a knockout punch for one of the candidates, but even with Gore’s better showing, the race is up for grabs.
The feedback from the first debate affected Gore so strongly that he overcompensated for what was seen as excessive aggression and appeared as a subdued debater. This sudden shift in personality had a profound effect on voters, as many reported seeing Gore as someone who would easily shift his position to gain in popularity. For the third debate, Gore seems to have been on target, but the circuitous path he took to get there seems to have cost him in the polls. Bush, on the other hand, seemed rather like the same candidate, and voters reported liking this appearance of stability.
The Oct. 11 debate began as a virtual love-fest, each candidate seemingly afraid to appear combative, and the moderator, Jim Lehrer of the News Hour on PBS, seemed incredulous when he asked: “.between the two of you as president, how you would handle Middle East policy, is there any difference?” To which Gore replied, “I haven’t heard a big difference right- in the last few exchanges.”
The differences in opinion surfaced soon after, however, and each candidate elaborated on foreign policy, a topic covered more extensively in the Oct. 11 debate.
On this topic Bush said, “. we can’t be all things to all people in the world,” adding, “And I think that’s where maybe the vice president and I begin to have some differences. I am worried about over-committing our military around the world.” Bush called the use of troops in Haiti “nation-building,” which he felt costly and unsuccessful. Gore disagreed saying, “.the world’s getting much closer together. Like it or not, . the United States is now the natural leader of the world. .Now, just because we cannot be involved everywhere, and shouldn’t be, doesn’t mean that we should shy away from going in anywhere.”
Things became considerably more heated when the exchanges turned to domestic policy. Gore made some headway when he went after Bush on the topic of health insurance and hate crimes legislature in Texas, which died in committee.
“James Byrd was singled out because of his race,[Byrd was an African-American who was dragged to death by three white men] in Texas,” said Gore, “.that’s why I think we can embody our values by passing a hate crimes law. I think these crimes are different.”
Where healthcare is concerned, Gore mentioned that Texas was 49th out of 50 states in ranking for children and women and 50th for families. Bush seemed unwilling to refute these numbers.
The third debate saw few new issues, and seemed to be primarily about the fine-tuning of delivery. Gore was more aggressive, but not as much as in the first debate. Bush, for his part, seemed to be in a holding pattern, trying to preserve his narrow lead by not going out on a limb. So Gore fine tuned his image, Bush tried not to slip up, and the voters decided who had the best personality.