Horowitz: 5 Things to Watch at Tomorrow Night’s Republican Presidential Debate
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
1) Bush attacking Trump: Departing from his initial strategy of attempting to ignore Trump, over the past several weeks, Jeb Bush has launched a series of tough attacks on the now acknowledged front-runner. He will likely pick a couple of spots to do this during the debate. These moments—if they occur--will receive wide and repeated news coverage post-debate.
2) The interaction between Trump and Hugh Hewitt: Syndicated conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt who some call ‘the thinking man’s Rush Limbaugh” will be one of the debate moderators. Earlier this month, he tripped up Donald Trump with the kind of factual foreign policy questions he asks all the candidates who come on his program. Trump confused the Iranian“Quds” force with the Kurds, demonstrating in the process that he had no idea who the long time head of the Kuds Force, General Soleimani , was. In typical Trump fashion he attacked Hewitt after the interview, calling him a "3rd rate radio announcer." As a result, media will pay special attention to any interaction between Trump and Hewitt.
3) Carly Fiorina and High Expections: Carly Fiorina is the one candidate who will be in the main debate tomorrow night, who was not on the big prime time stage in the first debate. She propelled herself into the main event mainly be her excellent debate performance in the 5:00 PM so-called kids table debate on FOX, which featured all the candidates who were not among the top 10 in an average of national polls. As the only woman , the only new candidate, and as someone who was recently attacked by Donald Trump for her appearance, all eyes will be on her. If she meets the high expectations she has created by her earlier superb performance, it is a big opportunity for her to continue her upward climb.
4) Ben Carson and Tougher Questions: Since the first debate, Ben Carson has moved into second place in the national horse race and is within striking distance of Donald Trump in Iowa, the location of the first contest. As a result, he is likely to get tougher, more policy specific questions—more difficult questions than he was asked by the FOX moderators at the first debate. Let’s watch how he handles them.
5) The Gap Between Polling on the Horserace and Debate Winners and Losers: Research shows that the main effect of debates is to reinforce existing candidate preferences. If you support a candidate going into the debate, you are likely to think that particular candidate won the debate. So to measure true debate impacts, it is important to compare the post-debate polls asking Republican primary voters, who won or lost with candidates’ current standing in national polling. In other words, if 18% of voters believe Donald Trump won the debate, since that is well below the 30% or so of primary voters who now indicate their support for him, even if more people think he won than any of the other candidates it is still not a good night for him. In other words, to gauge who is likely to benefit the most from their performance tomorrow night, look for the candidates whose performance as measured by the post-debate polls substantially exceeds their current percentage of the vote.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island
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