At Last, the Two Shall Meet.Face to Face, Chin to Smirk; All Summer, You Watched George W. Bush and John Kerry Snipe and Sneer at Each Other from a Distance. Now, See Them Do It Live, on the Same Stage! the Upcoming Presidential Debates Could Push Kerry over the Top-Or Seal the Deal for Bush. A NEWSWEEK Guide to Verbal Combat
Kosova, Weston, Newsweek
Byline: Text by Weston Kosova and Holly Bailey (Illustration by John Kascht)
KERRY: THE SUBSTANCE
He may have a reputation for being wooden and aloof, but Kerry is a formidable debater--he was named class orator at Yale--who has crushed opponents with his command of facts and his cool demeanor. To prepare for his encounters with Bush, he's been studying the president's winning debates against Al Gore in 2000. He's also staging mock debates against a stand-in Bush--played by Washington lawyer Greg Craig. Key issues to watch:
* Terrorism/National Security: This week's debate focuses on security concerns at home and abroad. Look for Kerry to hit Bush especially hard on Iraq. A favorite line: the president has "misled, miscalculated and mismanaged" the war and its aftermath. He'll also question Bush's handling of the war on terror, saying it hasn't made us safer. And he'll stress that, unlike Bush, he will win the trust and support of foreign allies and the United Nations.
* Economy: Kerry never misses an opportunity to slam Bush on the nation's fortunes. In the debates, he'll blame the president for losing 2.7 million jobs. He'll also go after Bush's $1.7 trillion tax cut, which he says mostly benefits the rich and caused a record $400 billion deficit. Kerry's solution: eliminate the tax cuts for the wealthy, and use the savings to fund health care and education.
* Health Care: Count on Kerry to rip into Bush's $534 billion Medicare prescription-drug plan. He says it's too expensive and benefits drug companies more than seniors. He'll also slap Bush for trying to keep people from importing cheaper drugs from Canada. Kerry will talk up his own plan to provide coverage for 27 million uninsured Americans--and stress that people will be able to choose their own doctors.
* Environment: Bush is vulnerable on green issues, and Kerry will likely scold him for trying to weaken clean-air and water standards, and for pushing to drill for oil in the Alaska wilderness.
KERRY: THE STYLE
Yes, he knows he has a likability problem. But Kerry's aides believe that when people see him one-on-one, they'll be surprised to find he's a lot less chilly and austere than he seems to be in speeches before large groups. He's even been working on smiling more. Just not at Bush. When the two meet onstage, look for Kerry to linger at the handshake--a ploy to emphasize the height difference between the two men (6 feet 4 vs. 5 feet 11). Other style points:
* The Reporting for Duty: You might be surprised to learn that Kerry is a veteran. But in case you didn't know, he'll likely point it out whenever he can--especially if Bush questions his credentials or resolve in fighting terror.
* The How Do You Do: Watch for Kerry to ask town-hall questioners about themselves, to show he's a regular guy who cares.
THE SMILE: JOHN EDWARDS
No one is spoiling more for a fight than Edwards, who is happiest in front of a jury--this time the viewing public. Don't let the sunny disposition fool you: Edwards knows how to wield a rhetorical knife. He'll likely paint Cheney as more interested in enriching his corporate friends than serving regular Americans. If Cheney attacks him for being a trial lawyer, he'll respond that he helped defend people against greedy insurance companies. …