|A group of Monmouth College students, faculty and staff who viewed Wednesday night's presidential debate in the Dahl Chapel and Auditorium expressed a similar opinion to the national poll that followed hours later -- Barack Obama was the clear winner of his third and final meeting with John McCain.
"Very clearly, Obama won tonight's debate, hands down," said MC professor Ken McMillan, who was one of two faculty members on hand to provide commentary. The other, Tobias Gibson, addressed the audience of more than 40 members prior to the event, discussing the rules and their importance.
"The rules really matter," he said. "It's the little things: the lighting, the format, even the height of the chairs," which was a disadvantage to Ross Perot in 1992, he explained. "The candidates sat on stools. Bush and Clinton looked fine, but Perot (who is much shorter) looked like a six-year-old in church."
McMillan said that debate's broader rules, a staple of the forum when it comes to judged competitions, are of far less consequence.
"The rules be damned when you're a presidential candidate in the United States," he said. "In regular debates, you want to follow the rules, which will help you score points with the judges. But for presidential candidates, it's not important to win the debate -- it's important to win votes."
The group who stayed in the auditorium to discuss the event seemed ready to declare that Obama had done both.
"Obama has had a very skillful approach to seeking the presidency," said McMillan, a former Republican state senator. "He's been very divisive, but he's divided 95 percent of the population from the other five percent. He's driven that wedge so that a huge majority is on his side. He's also very good at articulating his position. Tonight, McCain didn't articulate his good positions effectively."
One student also commented that McCain's strategy of going on the offensive didn't earn him any votes.
"Every little snippet he slipped in made him reek of desperation," he said.
By contrast, said McMillan, when Obama has a negative comment, "he does it in such a smooth, subtle way, it doesn't sound like an attack. His negative comments haven't been as vitriolic as McCain's. It's like a velvet hammer compared to a claw hammer."
McMillan also said that the nation's troubled economy has helped Obama in several areas.
"National defense has evaporated as an issue," he said. "McCain's strength there is now a minor issue."
He added, "In the first debate, I thought Obama made a mistake. He talked about helping the middle class. But the middle class doesn't want help - they want the opportunity to be successful themselves and make their own way. They reject his pandering. Now, though, with the economy as bad as it is, they welcome his help."
Finally, McMillan noted that "Obama has been running against Bush," and that strategy looks more "shrewd and effective" every day as Bush's eight-year presidency is ending on such a sour note economically.
The debate screening concluded a busy two weeks at Monmouth College, as the campus community also turned out to watch two other debates and held "Rock the Vote!" registration sessions. Now, students, faculty and staff will join the rest of the country in following the progress of the candidates' respective campaigns over their final two and a half weeks.
Hopefully, they will all take the advice of the mother of Wednesday night's moderator, Bob Schieffer:
"Go vote now. It will make you feel big and strong."
(Submitted by Monmouth College)