Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Presidential Election

October 18, 2012

Debate body language: A testy and tense exchange


NEW YORK (AP) — Maybe it's a cliché to say the gloves came off in Tuesday's presidential debate. But then again, maybe not, since the candidates sometimes looked like they were actually about to start boxing.

It was a tense and testy exchange at New York's Hofstra University, featuring a newly energized and forceful President Barack Obama squaring off against a vigorous, stand-your-ground Mitt Romney. But the evening will also be remembered for giving the distinct impression that these candidates were liking each other less and less.

—"I thought they were going to come to blows at one point," said Jonathan Paul, director of debate at Georgetown University.

—"It looked like they were circling a boxing ring," said Lillian Glass, a body language coach in Los Angeles.

—"I started thinking, here comes the Secret Service," quipped Jerry Shuster of the University of Pittsburgh.

One thing was clear: It was a distinctly different Obama than the one who gave a largely listless performance in the first debate. And there were differences, too, between Tuesday night's Romney and the more obviously confident one from the Denver debate.

Some impressions and assessments from analysts of political communication:



First, the obvious: This time around, Obama was unquestionably more forceful, aggressive and effective than before — all words that were used to describe challenger Romney in the first debate.

Want more adjectives? "He was more direct, detailed, engaged and focused," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of political communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "Stylistically, there are cues that suggest leadership. Obama had them."

For Glass, the body language coach in Los Angeles, it was a simple result of Obama having learned his lesson. "He really learned well from his mistakes," she said.

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Presidential Election