Round two of the presidential debates takes place tonight as Vice President Dick Cheney goes head-to-head with Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards.
The two will discuss foreign and domestic policy issues at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland during a town-hall format debate. It will be the only meeting between the two vice-presidential candidates before the election.
The debate will offer a study in contrast, both in style and experience. While the grizzled political veteran Cheney is no stranger to close elections, many view Edwards as somewhat green, since he has only served one term in the U.S. Senate.
“Edwards will say he is offering a fresh perspective, while Cheney will claim there is no substitute for experience,” forecasts University of Wisconsin political science Professor Donald Ferree.
The two candidates also bring different approaches to campaigning. Cheney has embraced the traditional vice-presidential role of campaign attack dog, but Edwards has largely abstained from becoming overly negative, according to Ferree.
“Some Democrats have been hoping Edwards will become more aggressive,” Ferree said. “I think he can be a strong, attacking person, but he might be afraid that he’ll be too negative. It’s a delicate balancing act.”
George Twigg, the Kerry campaign Wisconsin communications director, expects Cheney to go after Edwards’ former career as a trial lawyer.
“That’s their favorite line of attack,” Twigg said. “Edwards has to draw contrasts between where the Cheney/Bush team and the Kerry/Edwards ticket stand on the issues, and to make sure that we avoid getting caught up in distortions, which Cheney has been specializing in.”
Twigg praised Cheney’s intelligence and debating ability, saying the vice president “pretty handily” beat Al Gore’s running mate Joe Lieberman during the 2000 vice-presidential debate.
To counter Cheney’s experience, Edwards will try to replicate John Kerry’s success in his debate with President Bush Sept. 30. While most analysts have stopped short of calling the first debate an outright Kerry victory, many have contended the senator helped his campaign more than Bush during the event in Miami.
Polls have backed up Kerry’s perceived stronger performance in the debate. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll had the two candidates tied after Bush led by eight points pre-debate, while the Newsweek poll found Kerry had completely erased a one-time 11-point lead for Bush.
The onus will be on Cheney to stop the slide.
“I have confidence in [Cheney] — he won’t get flustered,” UW College Republicans Chair Nicole Marklein said. “He will point out the president’s strengths and show that Edwards is inexperienced.”
But Marklein does admit the vice-presidential debate carries less weight than the three presidential face-offs, a belief shared by Ferree.
“Not to say that vice presidents’ debates don’t make a difference, but voters primarily view them as a secondary concern,” Ferree said. “Vice-presidential debates are really less between the individuals involved than between two spokespersons for the president.”
Following Cheney and Edwards’ face-off tonight, Bush and Kerry will meet for two more debates, Oct. 8 in St. Louis and Oct. 13 in Tempe, Ariz.