Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Changing Gears

Tonight's debate was not as revolutionary or record-breaking as CNN likes to make it seem, but it did seem to mark a new period in the months leading up to primary season. Previous debates have seen a rush by the press and many voters to identify winners. Now, after a few rounds of no real movement, things are starting to change as real losers--the second tier candidates who still can't break out of their anonymity--are being slowly left behind. I'll take two candidates as examples here to show what's changing.

Chris Dodd

Here's a guy with experience and some great ideas that addressed a number of the issues raised in tonight's debate. Save perhaps his brief mention of his national service plan, Dodd failed to break from the rambling oration that he's so used to and get down to talking about the things that make him strongest. I was sadly unimpressed by his ability to articulate the plans I know he has for the environment, the Iraq war, and health care. Post-debate surveys show that 3% of viewers believed Dodd won tonight's debate (the lowest of all candidates), and 12% believed he lost (the second highest behind Mike Gravel). Dodd's campaign has changed a lot since the first debates--he's brought on some new advisors, picked up some endorsements, hit the trail in Iowa and New Hampshire as hard as anyone--but when it comes time to make a name for himself on the national stage nothing seems to happen.

Joe Biden

Polling only one or two percentage higher than Chris Dodd going into today was Delaware Senator Joe Biden. Biden has had difficulty establishing himself on the national stage in the past few months as well. There was a different energy in the air tonight because of the new debate format, and Joe Biden adjusted, and succeeded as a result. People saw his strong and no-nonsense speaking style and his ability to address the point on hand. At times he even responded in a quiet, emotional manner when appropriate. And what did viewers think? 14% said he won--putting him only 1% lower than Barack Obama and higher than Senator Edwards.

It's hard to say what the long-term reason behind these changes we're seeing now is. One explanation is that voters are picking up on smart energy: the ability to passionately speak about your position on an issue--even if it's not the best position. Chris Dodd might win an election on paper, but he's not doing enough to get us inspired enough to read about them at his website. Don't be surprised, however, if Joe Biden sees a surge in online donations, a small increase in media coverage, and it's not unrealistic to predict that he could start to move up a bit in the polls.

There's a cushion that people like someone like Hillary Clinton enjoys; she doesn't have to worry about the endlessly annoying "thank yous" she gives to anybody that asks her a question or does anything immediately before her. The same luxury doesn't exist for someone like Chris Dodd or Joe Biden because Hillary Clinton can count on waking up tomorrow with 40% of all Democrats supporting her.

It's that 5-10% undecided vote right now that is looking for an energized candidate that they think has a shot of making a mark on things. And to give him credit for the way he's handling himself, Joe Biden IS that passionate, sensible, experienced candidate that seems to show the hope of having some election-class mobility that makes me start to like him more and more.

All in all, it may not have been the element of YouTube that did the trick tonight, but we're finally seeing some changes in this election. To me, I'll sacrifice two hours of my time to see it unfold on CNN.

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