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Viewer's guide to tonight's debate

The goals: Straight talk vs. talking straight

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Here are some questions -- and answers -- framing tonight's second presidential debate:

Q: What should viewers be looking for in Round 2 tonight?

A: Remember John McCain's bus -- the "Straight Talk Express?" Gore has to prove to voters he's a straight talker.

Last week, every poll showed Gore won the first debate. But it was what's called a ``Pyrrhic victory'' -- a victory achieved at too great a cost. Gore won the debate and immediately started slipping in the polls.

Voters said they didn't find Gore trustworthy. His serial embellishments reminded people of what they don't like about Clinton -- that he's not a straight talker. Gore's got to repair his credibility tonight.

Q: How does he do that?

A: First of all, get his facts straight. Don't embellish.

Gore has to try to throw Bush on the defensive. He has to show he understands Bush's tax plan and prescription drug plan better than Bush does -- but do that without being a "smarty pants."

The Gore campaign is getting tough on Bush's record in Texas. Watch to see if Gore takes up that theme tomorrow night -- or will he leave the dirty work to Joe Lieberman and the Democratic Party?

Given the news this week, a lot of the debate could be taken up with world affairs. That's very good news for Gore. He's experienced and knowledgeable about the Middle East and the Balkans. Bush is not. Watch for Gore to try to steer the debate in an international direction.

Q: What's Bush's problem?

A: If people wonder whether Gore's a straight talker, they wonder if Bush can talk straight.

The Democrats are already making fun of the "bumbling babbling Bush." Bush avoided any shocking factual errors in the first debate, but he still has to get through two more.

Bush doesn't have to show he's smarter or more knowledgeable than Gore. That won't happen. He simply has to show voters he's smart enough and knowledgeable enough to be president.

Bush had better be prepared to defend his tax cut plan, his social security plan, his prescription drug plan. If he seems confused about what he's proposing, he's a goner.

World affairs will be tricky for Bush. It's the topic where he seems least sure of himself. Watch for Bush to name drop. He'll mention Dick Cheney and Colin Powell and George Shultz and Condoleezza Rice to try to reassure voters that he'll have knowledgeable and experienced people around him.

Bush's biggest challenge is to make the case for change. At a time of peace and prosperity, why should people want change? John F. Kennedy did that very skillfully in 1960 by talking about the missile gap.

But the Cold War is over. Bush has got to figure out some other way to make the case for change because, bottom line, that is what he's selling.

 
EUROPE'S VIEW
Where do Bush and Gore stand on issues of importance to Europe? Launch our Interactive Guide.

POLLS
View the latest tracking poll or dig into our poll archives.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

VIDEO
Watch selected policy speeches and campaign commercials from the major presidential candidates.

WHERE THEY STAND
See where George W. Bush and Al Gore stand on the major issues.

THE STATES
Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? What are the presidential primary results and exit polls? Find out with these state political and election facts.

ELECTION GUIDE
Get Election 2000 zip code searchable candidate biographies and other material for races for governor, Senate and House in our Election Guide.

FOLLOW THE MONEY
How much money have the candidates raised? Here are their quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commission.

RACES
If you need to know who's up in 2000 and what seats are open, launch this quick guide.

WEB WHITE AND BLUE
Allpolitics.com is a partner in the Web White and Blue rolling cyber-debate, a daily online exchange among the major presidential candidates. Look for twice-daily updates Sunday through Friday until election day.


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Wednesday, October 11, 2000


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