And the winner is…

Published 11:04 pm Saturday, September 27, 2008

Would you believe Jim Lehrer?

The PBS journalist, who was moderator for the first presidential debate between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, won hands-down as far as the academia side of the post-game analysis went.

That was the consensus of the two Ohio University professors who are providing running commentary on the current presidential election race for The Tribune.

Email newsletter signup

“I was really impressed,” Dr. Kenneth Heineman said. “As a moderator he kept forcing them to come back to the issue that with this bailout where is all this money coming from for future programs and tax cuts. He finally pinned them down.

“Last night was excellent. I attribute that to Lehrer, that one moderator (format) works best. You had very focused questions and you had follow-up. Lehrer did the best public service in his career when he forced them to say where are these spending cuts.”

His colleague, Dr. Michael McTeague, agreed with that observation and after that the two men definitely veered.

“The attempt to try to get them to engage in discussion was well done by the moderator,” McTeague said.

However, while McTeague called the actual debate a draw, Heineman saw it as a definite win for McCain.

“I have to give it to McCain. McCain was throughout very calm, very humorous,” Heineman said. “He had some very funny lines. He was smooth throughout. Obama on the other hand was agitated for most of the debate. You could see the irritation and the anger, when he started getting frustrated, the stuttering.”

In Heineman’s take on the debate, Obama focused over and over on two talking points: health care and President Bush.

“If he would have been talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers, he would have worked in President Bush,” Heineman said.

Obama was the one who buckled under the pressure of questioning, the professor contends.

“Now the expectation was that McCain would be tired and grouchy,” he said. “McCain was emphasizing bipartisanship. Obama came off argumentative and not really focused.”

Their performances followed what Heineman has seen as the two candidates’ strong suits: Obama is more polished and dynamic when making a speech. McCain performs better off the cuff.

“(Obama) does much better with a set piece … he is not good at conversation,” Heineman said. “Where McCain is terrible at these set pieces, McCain gives the impression of someone willing to listen to the other side.”

While McTeague saw neither candidate as making an egregious misstep, he did agree that there is value to that election tradition of having debates.

“You are trying to get at least an idea of how a large overview of policy is being addressed,” he said.