Political Science professor Adam Schiffer is an expert in American politics. He earned an undergraduate degree from Chapman University in Orange, Calif., a master’s degree from Arizona State University and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina.
Q: Who do you think was the stronger debater?
A: I don’t think either of them jumped out as being stronger than the other. It was always said that this town hall format would benefit John McCain, and though he looked a little nervous at times I thought he did well overall. But I thought Obama held his own, as well. Judging it like you would judge let’s say a high school debate, I think they both did well. They both answered the questions as asked, unlike with the vice presidential debate where Sarah Palin dodged almost every question and even told the moderator early on she wasn’t going answer her questions. Both of them stayed on topic and answered the questions well, and seemed to stick to the facts pretty well. I don’t think anybody jumped out as a clear winner.
Q: Critics have said McCain had the advantage when it came to the town hall-style format. Was this advantage evident in comparison to Obama?
A: I think it was at first. McCain immediately walked out and stood right next to the person who asked the first question. Obama seemed a little tentative at first, but I think once it went on there really was no McCain advantage.
Q: The debate came at a pivotal moment in the campaign, particularly because McCain has been losing ground to Obama in the polls. Do you think his answers were enough to change his current standing?
A: No, not at all. As you said, the polls have been moving fairly dramatically over the last couple of weeks in Obama’s favor. And if the election were held today Obama would have a high single-digit victory in the popular vote and probably an electoral vote landslide. So in order to change that, McCain would have had to do something different, he would have had to shake the field up in a way by changing the subject or doing something that would grab everyone’s attention. But, though I think he did well, as I said he answered the questions, he made his case well, he didn’t do anything that will fundamentally change the momentum that has been going in Obama’s direction.
Q: Given that the end of the campaign is looming, do you notice that the candidates are throwing more jabs at each other?
A: We didn’t see that at all tonight of course. They did criticize each other on some of the issues, but no more so than they had in past encounters or over the course of the campaign. But over the last four days the McCain campaign has taken a sudden and pretty dramatic turn toward the personal and the nasty. They’ve unleashed Palin to all but call Obama a terrorist and talk about his associations with less than savory characters. A lot of the commentators were anticipating that McCain might make it personal tonight by bringing up some of Obama’s alleged character flaws, but he did not. It appears that he wants to remain above the fray, while letting Palin and his spokespersons do the dirty work.
Q: Because the third and final debate is so close to the election date, do you think this debate was the last chance for the candidates to make any significant impacts?
A: Well in some ways I think tonight was even too late for that. If anything in the election is going to change at this point, something dramatic has to happen, God forbid another terrorist attack or some major scandal by Obama. It’s going to take a cataclysmic event at this point to shift the momentum back in McCain’s favor. It’s simply not enough for him to have a good debate performance, and that will be all the more so for the last debate, since as you said it comes so close to the election. And it’s not just that it comes close to the election, but it’s that we’ve already heard them debate a few times. In 1980, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter had only one debate, and it was only a week before the election. It’s universally credited as being the most important moment, where Reagan overtook Carter and won the election. But I don’t think that will happen this time because we’ve already seen them; we’ve already heard what they have to say.