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CONFRONTATION IN CONNECTICUT

Like Experts, They Say No Clear Winner Emerged

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Although last night's presidential debate--unlike many other political faceoffs--was not shown on the big screen at the Arco Forum, politically concerned Harvard students found a way to watch the festivities on televisions in dormitory and common rooms across campus.

One group of Harvard first-years watching the debate in a room in Weld Hall held mixed opinions about the issues and candidates, but they seemed to agree on one thing.

"The debate didn't help clarify issues," said Brittany J. Nelson '00. "Both sides used the same facts to defend their different views."

Nelson said she has not decided for whom she will vote.

Many of the first-years said they did not believe there was a clear winner in the debate.

"But the loser was the American people," said Robert R. Porter '00.

Despite the lack of a clear victor, Trevor D. Dryer '00 said he benefited from the debate.

"It was informative to see back-to-back where the candidates came down on the issues," Dryer said.

Several first-years shared the view that while President Bill Clinton was more articulate, former Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) was more honest.

"The debate reinforced my vote for Bob Dole," Porter said. "Clinton was very slick and articulate, but he twisted facts. I was very turned off."

But some students said they thought Dole took cheap shots at Clinton.

"I think if anything Dole came off looking worse," said Christine M. Hernandez '00. "He threw a lot of low blows."

The Experts

Leading political experts were slower to criticize the way the debate was carried out.

"The participants did what they had to do," said IBM Professor of Business and Government Roger B. Porter. "President Clinton was primarily engaged in defending his record. He was quite successful in focusing on his past accomplishments."

Roger Porter said Dole succeeded at his task of convincing people he was presidential.

He said he was surprised that "neither candidate made a big mistake," a departure from previous years' contests.

University of Virginia government professor James W. Ceaser, who taught a graduate seminar at Harvard on the 1996 presidential race last spring, said he strongly believed Dole won the debate.

"I thought Dole won. He was at least the equal of the President," said Ceaser. "I think most people thought the President would get the better of Dole."

Ceaser praised Dole's treatment of the character issue.

"Dole raised the character issue without raising it," he said.

Paul Y. Watanabe, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, had a very different view of the debate.

"It was a very strong night for Bill Clinton, but a weak performance for Bob Dole," Watanabe said. "Dole simply was not able to be effectively responsive, to engage the President, to rattle him at all."

Watanabe criticized Dole's lack of direction.

He said Dole was "building a bridge to nowhere," while "Clinton was very effective and right on the game plan."

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