In debates, Holden was on defense, McCaskill attacked more

Thursday, July 22, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden was on defense more than three times as often as Democratic gubernatorial challenger Claire McCaskill during their recent debates, a University of Missouri-Columbia professor's detailed analysis found.

Holden made more positive statements about his own record than McCaskill, the state auditor, while McCaskill attacked Holden almost six times more frequently than the governor came after her, according to the analysis released Wednesday by professor Bill Benoit.

Benoit, who has been nationally recognized for his analyses of campaign communications from advertising to debates, scrutinized candidate statements and responses from one-hour broadcast debates between Holden and McCaskill conducted Monday and Tuesday nights.

He classified the candidates' statements as falling into three basic categories: "acclaims," which Benoit generally calls positive statements about one's own record; "attacks"; and "defenses," or how a candidate under attack replies.

"Holden is an incumbent, and incumbents typically are more positive and challengers typically attack more than incumbents," Benoit said. "The whole rationale for McCaskill's campaign is that she thinks they share the same values, but that she can get more accomplished than he can. That assumes he is not getting enough accomplished, and that implies attacking."

That kept Holden in a defensive posture for 15 percent of his debate time, versus 4 percent of McCaskill's time spent responding to Holden's attacks, Benoit said.

He said McCaskill was on the attack during 45 percent of the time she had the floor, while Holden attacked during 8 percent of his speaking time.

Benoit said the findings weren't surprising, because McCaskill is the challenger, and challengers often try to gain attention and support by pointing out what they consider weaknesses in an incumbent's record.

McCaskill repeatedly criticized Holden about public school financing; a contract that directs state job hot line calls to operators in India; his million-dollar inauguration party and his use of state airplanes.

"She did attack more than he did, but I would note that neither one offered a lot of personal attacks alleging dishonesty or immorality. It was more about their records," Benoit said.

Holden repeatedly promoted what he said have been his top priorities: education, health care and jobs. Benoit said Holden emphasized policy more often than McCaskill -- 78 percent of his time to 56 percent of her time.

"It seemed to me there were times Holden would repeat his answer, and then he would be pressed and sort of say the same thing again, staying on his message," Benoit said. "I didn't notice that as much with Auditor McCaskill."

Benoit said there hasn't been much research about Missouri primary debates, so he couldn't offer comparisons with past ones. But he has researched presidential primary debates dating to a 1948 radio forum, and said based on those standards, Holden was generally more positive than average and McCaskill attacked more often than the presidential primary average.

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