U. Penn Group Hosts Discussion Of Tuesday's Presidential Debate

This story was written by Naomi Tarlow, Daily Pennsylvanian
Hillary Clinton was declared the "winner" of Tuesday's Democratic debate at Drexel University, but are her opponents strengthening their opposition?

This was one of the hot topics discussed at "The Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate: Who Really Won?" hosted by PoliComm, Annenberg's political communications research journal, Wednesday at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications.

Leading political communications professors, reporters and bloggers formed a panel moderated by Annenberg public policy fellow David Eisenhower.

Annenberg adjunct instructor Al Felzenberg, principal spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, stated that while, John Edwards proved himself a cogent debater and Obama made some good critiques of Clinton, Clinton proved that she is, above all, a politician.

Deputy political director for NBC News Mark Murray explained that Clinton has used the Democratic debates to show her strength on the few issues that the Democratic candidates do not agree with.

"If the debate [Tuesday] night did anything, it caused the press to push further on [contested] issues," Murray said. The challenge posed to Clinton will be "tough questions and fact checking. If she and her campaign win this battle, she will be on her way to winning the primaries."

Faiz Shakir, research director at the Center for American Progress, focused on the other candidates' critiques of Clinton.

Obama and Edwards tried to make Hillary look "too hawkish for her liberal base -- secretive, calculating and insincere," Shakir said.

He stressed that candidates need to draw sharper contrasts between themselves and other candidates. Because of "broad complacency with the top three" -- Clinton, Edwards and Obama -- many Democrats do not have a strong commitment to one candidate, he said.

Writing professor and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and reporter Gail Shister declared the debate "very static, with very little action - formulaic and predictable."

Annenberg Dean Michael Delli Carpini suggested that each debate have a specific theme, such as foreign policy.

Carpini also felt that debates including questions from the general public would be more effective, as would having the candidates speak directly to each other.

Another highly debated issue at the panel was NBC's decision to broadcast the debate on cable, which is less accessible to the public than network television.

Although NBC would suffer by broadcasting the debate over popular TV shows, Jordan Grossman, senior editor of PoliComm, summarized the panel's ultimate opinion best.

"Debates should be on public networks, but the media should make debates more innovative," Grossman said. "Debates have the potential to be the top-rated programs," he said. "People care about the war in Iraq."
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