I’m not about to be a spoilsport and say that presidential debates are overrated as the history shows there have been very few since they began being held regularly in 1976 which have significantly moved voters.
The first debate in 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush definitely changed some things. That’s the one, you might recall, where Gore was okay on substance but horrible on style (with his sighs and eye-rolling).The revelation about Bush’s DUI arrest that Fox News broke five days before the election might also have changed just as many votes, however.
More instructive is looking back at the first debates in 1984 and 2012, when the incumbents – Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, respectively – delivered horrid performances.
Reagan was stunningly out of it in his first Sunday-night debate against Walter Mondale in October of ’84. He looked completely out of touch and in over his head, and for a moment excited Democrats and the media that what looked like a blowout election could become competitive. Two weeks later, Reagan got his act together, made a self-deprecating remark about not making an issue out of Mondale’s youthful inexperience, and he was golden, going on to win 49 states.
Obama was terrible in his first debate against Romney four years ago, freaking out Democrats who suddenly contemplated that the president wasn’t very focused. If you’ll recall, it was Joe Biden who turned the momentum around when he went super aggressive against Paul Ryan in the VP debate a week or so later.
And yes, Jerry Ford’s infamous admission that Poland was not under the influence of the Soviet Union in the debate from the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1976 was a major story that perhaps nullified Ford’s amazing comeback that summer from what had been a 33-point deficit to Jimmy Carter in the first election after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.
But there have been dozens of other debates that truly did not move the needle all that much. The fact that the race is close to tied (with Donald Trump ascendent) does raise the stakes, as well as the fact that historically the first of the three scheduled presidential debates is generally the highest rated on television.
And to think that Trump initially wanted to change the date of this event, because it was up against Monday Night Football. But tonight’s contest between Atlanta and New Orleans is a matchup of two relatively mediocre squads, so there’s no fear of losing too much of the national audience there.
In other news…
Matt Gaetz chose the death of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez to blast athletes for kneeling for the national anthem.
Tim Kaine’s in Lakeland today.
Charlie Crist became the second prominent Democrat in two days over the weekend to plead to Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark to open an early polling site in South St. Pete.
Gwen Graham will be out of elected office in a few months. Until then, she’s keeping herself in the news, pressuring the Florida DEP about when they told neighbors new the Mosaic plant in Polk County about that giant spill from a sinkhole in August.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman laid out what she hopes to do if voters give her four more years last Friday in Tampa.