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Western Press Review: Dole Debate 'Victory' Amounts To Election Setback

Prague, 8 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- West European commentary largely ignored Sunday night's televised debate between the two principal U.S. presidential candidates, incumbent Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole. Following is a selection of commentary on the debate from the U.S. and British press.

NEW YORK TIMES: Dole should stay on his tax cut issue

Says an editorial today: "Publicly and privately, Bob Dole has been getting the same advice over and over from Republicans. (That is) simply that if you are going to run on a tax cut, then get on that issue and stay on it."

"The former senator is a smart man, but notoriously resistant to taking advice."

"This page agrees that the Dole tax-cut plan is misguided, but even we have to admit that it is possible to make a better argument for it than Dole could bestir himself to offer Sunday."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Dole failed to land the killer punch

According to an editorial today: The debate "will not rank high in the history of such contests for sheer excitement."

"Mr. Dole failed to land the killer punch that would seriously have dented the President's lead."

"Mr. Dole's problem is that too many of his campaign advisers are afraid of allowing him to go after the administration in uninhibited fashion."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Voters need reasons to make a change

In a commentary yesterday by national political columnists Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover: "If you view presidential debates as theatrical performances, Bob Dole fared reasonably well in his first confrontation with President Clinton."

"But if you view the debates as strategic opportunities, Dole missed by a mile. The first imperative in any challenger's campaign is to give voters reasons to take the risks involved in making change. The voters still are waiting for Dole to give them a vision."

NEW YORK TIMES: Dole avoided the Whitewater and character issues

According to a commentary by columnist A. M. Rosenthal in today's edition : "Bob Dole entered Sunday's presidential debate with two political handicaps. He emerged with three. The first handicap was President Clinton."

"Dole's second handicap is his own campaign."

"The third handicap is a brand new one created by Dole and the geniuses who prepped him for the debate. Dole avoided challenging the president on two issues (that would have damaged Clinton). They are Whitewater and character."

BOSTON GLOBE: The two nominees crowded the center line of American politics

In an analysis by David M. Shribman in yesterday's edition: "All year long they have inched toward each other, moving ever closer to the middle of the road, and if the two presidential nominees collided last night, it was because they were crowding the center line of American politics."

PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS: Did Dole have to turn into Mary Poppins?

From a commentary by Washington columnist Sandy Grady in yesterday's edition: "There was a reckless prediction made here that Bob Dole would win the first televised debate against Bill Clinton.


"How was I to guess that Bob Dole, the Darth Vader of the Senate, would suddenly turn into Mr. Nice Guy? Every time Dole delivered a stiletto thrust, he'd smile, joke and practically apologize. Obviously his handlers had warned Dole against playing the snarling mugger. But did he have to turn into Mary Poppins?"

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: Dole had to peel voters away from Clinton

An analysis by political writer Philip J. Trounstine in yesterday's edition: "With humor, vigor and intelligence, Bob Dole accomplished one of his most important challenges in Sunday night's debate. He presented himself as a man who could be president.

"But, trailing by double digits in national polls, Dole had another task, to peel voters away from President Clinton. That would have required either a slashing, unanswered attack, or a serious stumble by the President. Neither occurred."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Perot was relegated to the sidelines

In an analysis by Thomas Hardy and David S. Cloud in yesterday's edition: "Despite the high stakes coming into the debate, it did not appear to be a pivotal campaign event and most likely reinforced decisions supporters already had made."

"The Clinton-Dole duel became all the more important when Reform Party nominee Ross Perot, who took part in the 1992 presidential debates as an independent candidate, was relegated to the sidelines Sunday, commenting afterwards in a live Cable News Network interview."

NEW YORK TIMES: Perot plays a diminished role in this campaign

According to an analysis by Adam Negourney in yesterday's edition: "Ross Perot appeared on Sunday evening not on a stage with a president, but in a studio with the television host Larry King, bashing the political system that had excluded him and warning about the corrupting influence of special interests."

"The juxtaposition of the two political events on Sunday night -- the first presidential debate and the latest appearance by Perot on King's show -- was the sharpest reminder yet of Perot's diminished role in his second campaign for president."

DALLAS MORNING NEWS: The debate revealed the dynamics between the candidates

In an analysis by Susan Feeney and Kathy Lewis is yesterday's edition: "As instructive as what President Clinton and Bob Dole said during their first debate were the dynamics between them."

"On the viewers' right stood the loquacious southerner who wears his heart on his sleeve. At left was the prairie politician who admits he's no wordsmith, trying to lighten up his image and ruffle the incumbent."

ARIZONA REPUBLIC: And the winner was . . .

From a commentary by Keven Willey in yesterday's edition: "As far as presidential debates go -- and we all know they can be pathetically ponderous -- Sunday night's has to be one of the best. Both candidates were sharp, dignified and displayed disarming touches of wit."

"If I had to declare a winner, I suppose I'd pick Republican Bob Dole (because) Dole went into the debate so far behind in the polls that simply holding his own with the incumbent seemed like a win."