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Voters Expect to Hear Confidence at the Debate

Amid the financial crisis, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama will likely use the platform of the second presidential debate to quell voters' anxiety. Analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks explain the strengths of appearing confident and the flaws of a negative campaign.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And on this presidential debate night, some preview remarks from Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    I see that neither of you guys have any credit default swaps?

    DAVID BROOKS, columnist, New York Times: Sixty-one trillion of those are actually mine and sitting in my basement.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You just got some really bad news.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Look, most pundits are saying that tonight's debate is make-it-or-break-it for John McCain. What say you, Pundit Shields?

    MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: I don't think it's make-it-or-break-it. I think there's a nervousness bordering on panic among some Republicans, in part because John McCain has always been more popular than the Republican brand.

    He's run ahead of Republicans in Congress this year. And Barack Obama conversely has been not as popular as the Democratic brand. That is, more people are going to vote for a Democrat for Congress and for a Democratic Congress than for president.

    And if that ever gets into sync — and you've seen these numbers kind of go south on McCain recently, where McCain is running — instead of running ahead of the Republican Congress is running with them or thereabouts, they're facing a blowout election.

    And I guess the analogy I would use is this one, Jim. We're on a subway train. We're between scheduled stops. We're going along. And all of a sudden, we get hit or we hit something off our train and knocks us off the track.

    And there we are in the darkness. And that's where we are. And we're scared. And what we're looking for most of all is a strong, informed…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You mean — you're talking about the big we here?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I'm talking about the we, the country, the voters, as we go into this thing tonight. That's why the stakes are big.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    All right. OK.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    A strong, informed, confident, reassuring voice who can tell us what happened, what's being done about it, what we can do to help and when we're going to get back on the track.

    And if that voice comes on and says, "Let me tell you about David. He was arrested for stealing a watermelon in high school, you know, and he was really a bad actor with the girls." I mean, voters are going to turn off.

    And I think that's, I think, the needle that John McCain has to thread tonight. He has to somehow come to voters and convince them that he knows what to do.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree?