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Carter, Reagan Square Off in Debate

Campaign '80

By Robert O. Boorstin, Special to The Crimson

CLEVELAND, Ohio--In the end, the experts on both sides of the great debate agreed, nobody won by a knock-out.

But depending on which side of the public Music Hall they sat on and whether they worked for Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, they argued that one candidate or the other had won the debate on points.

In a 90-minute confrontation covering everything from what Amy Carter thinks of nuclear weapons to what Ronald Reagan once said about Medicare, the two candidates took careful aim at each other and traded large stacks of statistics, facts, and even generalities.

Dirty Tricks

Carter stressed the issue of nuclear arms control, implying that Reagan in the White House would be both "dangerous and disturbing." Reagan criticized Carter's record on the economy and called for a "crusade to get the government off the backs of the people." Along the way, each dodged issues he didn't care to answer and drew some laughs from the 700 who gathered inside the Music Hall.

For the most part, Carter defined the issues of the debate--questions like the Equal Rights Amendment--but Reagan advisers felt their candidate defended his record admirably and showed himself to be a "warm and compassionate man."

Looking rather small in the shadows of the giant gold-inlaid columns and panels of the hall, the two candidates traded some sharp words but never got going and only occasionally got personal.

There were things that the more than 90 million people who tuned in to watch didn't see--like the two candidates emerging on stage at exactly the same moment but Reagan taking the initiative both before and after the debate to shake hands with his opponent.

Carter remained stony-faced during most of Reagan's speeches, interrupting his impassive stares only twice with laughter. Reagan seemed more relaxed to most observers, laughing on at least four occasions and smiling broadly when he thought he had cornered the president on some broken promise or distortion.

With Republican dignitaries like George Bush and Sen. John G. Tower (R-Tex.) looking on, Reagan found room for some rhetoric among his non-stop attempt to defend his record and correct what he called Carter's distortions.

While his wife Rosalynn and key aides nodded their heads as he answered questions, the president spent the balance of his time outlining what he called the "sharp and stark differences" that separate his positions from Reagan's.

Emphasizing the decisions involving the control of nuclear weapons--which Carter repeatedly pointed to as the single most important issue in the campaign, the president stressed his record in "extending peace to other countries."

"There are no simple answers to complex questions," Carter said, pointing to the heavy burdens of the Oval Office and the need for a president to make decisions on his own.

Both candidates argued that peace can only be achieved through strength but differed somewhat in outlining their approaches to obtaining power.

Carter ridiculed Reagan for wanting to "throw the SALT II treaty in the waste basket" and defended his administration's record of working for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament while maintaining a strong defense.

Speaking in calm, even tones, Reagan outlined his support for further defense programs and defended his position that he can increase military expenditures, cut taxes and balance the budget.

On economic questions, Reagan was on the attack, pointing to Carter's own "misery index"--the combined figures of inflation and unemployment rates: and nothing that Carter had exceeded a level that he had once called necessary for reelection.

Harping on the situation of the nation's unemployed. Reagan said that setting a lower minimum wage for teenage minorities and moving jobs programs from the public to the private sector would ease the problem.

The former California governor promised to cut "fat and extravagance" from federal programs and lashed out at Carter's record on inflation. "We don't have inflation because the people are living too well," Reagan said, reiterating one of his most familiar campaign themes. "We have inflation because the government is living too well."

Carter defended his record on "humanitarian" issues and attacked Reagan's support of the Kemp-Roth tax bill, calling it a "heartless kind of approach" that would cut taxes primarily for the rich.

One of the few humorous moments of the debate--when the 200 reporters and 500 invited guests in the Music Hall disobeyed the rules asking them not to show feeling--came when Carter, in an answer to a question from Barbara Walters, joked that he was reluctant to say anything negative about Reagan.

At the beginning of the debate, moderator Howard K. Smith turned to the Music Hall audience and sardonically announced: "Welcome to Las Vegas on the lake, where a lot may depend on one throw of the dice."

After the debate, in the adjoining Public Hall--where the Republican Party nominated Calvin Coolidge in 1924--advisers for both candidates agreed that nobody had crapped out.

Reagan campaign chairman William J. Casey said the debate showed that Reagan was not a war monger and that Reagan came off as a "kind and soft fellow."

"I would not call it a knock-out, Casey said, but I would say that Reagan won a 15-round decision."

Casey's counterpart on the Democratic side, Robert S. Strauss, said he thought the debate showed "that Carter has grown in office" and that the debate "clearly demonstrated that the president knows these issues."

Richard B. Wirthlin, Reagan's chief pollster, said his candidate looked both "at ease and strong" simultaneously. "We thought the person on the defensive would lose," Wirthlin said, "but that wasn't the case."

Wirthlin said that although Carter set the grounds for the debate, "when people listen to the governor speak for a long period of time they see him as effective and also as a warm and compassionate individual."

An ABC television phone-in survey of more than 500,000 viewers supported - what Reagan advisers said, with twice as many respondents saying they thought Reagan won the debate.

Carter advisers Patrick Caddell and Gregory Schneider disagreed with the Republican assessment.

The candidates discussed "Democratic issues," Schneider said, adding that Carter was successful in targeting his answers "to reach those elements of the population that are still undecided."

Bush, who ran through the public hall where more than 1500 reporters had camped out, said that Reagan did not let Carter distort his record in California, adding that the president "could say nothing to defend his failed record on the economy."

Caddell said that by defending himself throughout the debate, Reagan "hurt himself badly." Both sides said they were conducting surveys and would release results later in the week.

One of the most familiar faces at the debate, Henry A. Kissinger '50, offered his opinion as he ran off to a Reagan party at Cleveland's Stouffer's Inn. "I think Reagan won," Kissinger said, as he walked quickly to escape reporters, "but, of course, I started that way.

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