Democratic strategists say Gore’s debate performance against Bush in 2000 hobbled him. Gore’s audible sighs from behind the podium gave many voters a negative impression of him.
Four years later, Kerry tightened the race against Bush by winning the first debate.
“Debates are always game changers. If you kick somebody’s butt in a debate, that matters a lot. It changes votes. It changes media narratives,” said Lux, the Democratic strategist.
A candidate must demonstrate mastery over policy details, nimbly dodge attacks and counterpunch, and come across as likeable.
Gore’s sighs created a condescending impression. McCain’s refusal to look at Obama on the debate stage made him look petulant to some analysts.