Debate coach: Reagan was 'oddly disoriented'

By SYDNEY SHAW, United Press International

Walter Mondale emerged as the stronger personality in his first debate with President Reagan, but the president defended himself well and avoided major blunders, according to six college debate coaches.

Two of the six coaches from across the country who watched the debate Sunday night dubbed Mondale 'the clear winner' afterward, and all agreed Reagan was not as relaxed or agressive as usual.


'The overall impression of Reagan is that he was oddly disoriented and confused with regard to many of the subjects,' said Darrell Scott of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

'Mondale was much more comfortable. While people expected to see a fighting Fritz, it's not what they got. They got a more diplomatic, confident, poised Walter Mondale.'

Melissa Wade of Emory University said Mondale also showed more humor than Reagan.

But Mike Weiler of the University of Pittsburgh said although Mondale's strong performance will help erase the Democratic nominee's 'wimp tag,' there was no 'knockout punch.'

'I don't think this debate will change a lot of minds,' he said, adding that Reagan's main project was to avoid some terrible mistake during the match.

'I think he did that,' Weiler said. 'And one of the things Reagan did well, especially early in the debate, was he preempted some of the criticisms Mondale could have leveled at him. He admitted he promised to balance the budget in his first term and didn't and explained why.


'Maybe Mondale should have done that with reference to (former President Jimmy) Carter.'

Jude Dougherty, debate expert at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., said Mondale 'came across as the stronger personality,' but added the Democrat ducked the issues much more than Reagan.

Melonie Gardner of the University of Texas said both candidates had strengths, but she gave Mondale more points.

'Reagan's strength was his use of facts and figures,' she said. 'I'm not sure all of them were correct, but they supported his rhetoric.'

The coaches said Reagan did a good job of defending himself, but his performance was not up to par.

'Reagan has a better TV personality, but he was nervous starting off tonight and didn't smile as much as usual,' Wade said. 'I felt toward the end of the debate his closing statement was somewhat rambling.'

Scott said, 'It's as if he really wasn't tuned in to the debate.'

Weiler said, 'There were, time to time, moments of disfluency, especially during his final statement, where he appeared to grope for what he wanted to say. But that's nothing new. The American people are used to that.'

Scott said Mondale's finest moments were when he discussed the economic recovery because his 'presentational style was graceful and clear.' He said Mondale won six of the eight rounds, based on presentation, style, clarity and evidence to back up arguments.


'His tactic of being very respectful and nice to the president was an excellent tactic, especially given Reagan's performance, his nervousness -- uncharacteristic nervousness,' Wade said.

But Dougherty pointed out that praising an opponent is 'textbook rhetoric -- you praise your opponent before you put the knife into him.'

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