Student scores event about even

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 29, 2008

A Brookhaven High School graduate who had the chance to sit inon the presidential debate in Oxford Friday night said he thinksthe debate presented voters with a better understanding of thecandidates’ strong points.

Ole Miss sophomore James Hoggatt, who earned his ticket to thedebate by winning a debate last Monday night, said the realizationhit him the other day that no matter who is elected president, hehas witnessed history.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I was talking to debate partner,Arianne Keisel, and in 40 years I’ll be one of 150 people stillalive that saw the most important debate of the 21st century,because we will either have our first African-American president orour first female vice president when this election is decided.”

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Hoggatt said in the days before the event, he wasn’t sure whatkind of showing to expect from the candidates.

“Going into the debate I had a feeling that McCain was going tobe at a disadvantage, but once it got started I was significantlymore secure in his ability to go toe to toe with a candidate likeObama,” Hoggatt said. “If you look at his previous speeches, he’shad problems with reading from the teleprompters. The new designfor the debate better suited McCain’s debate style and allowed himto speak from his mind rather than from what he’s reading.”

But Obama also showed himself a worthy candidate, Hoggattsaid.

“I don’t think Obama lost any ground, and if anything this willmake people more interested in the election,” he said. “Many peopleI know said they didn’t want to watch it because they thought itwas going to be an Obama fest. But in the end, both candidates didwhat they needed to do; both gained ground.”

Hoggatt said the ground gained was specific for each candidate,and could potentially make the election shape up to be moreinteresting for those who were previously apathetic orundecided.

“I believe Obama really established himself as an experiencedleader, and McCain as a middleman politically,” he said. “I thinkwhere they lost ground was what they could attack each otherwith.”

An important blow struck by McCain, Hoggatt said, was that heshowed himself to be a candidate that was neither too far left nortoo far right.

“McCain proved he’s not distant and absent from people, and hereestablished himself as a person who’s in the center of thepolitical arena, as opposed to far left like Obama, or far rightlike George Bush,” he said.

Hoggatt said he left the debate feeling that Obama had departedfrom the rhetoric that had made so many people believe his standshad no firm basis.

“Surprisingly, Obama gained a lot of ground on national securityand foreign relations, especially by presenting his idea that theU.S. has to work on its image before anything else gets better,” hesaid.

Meanwhile, he was also impressed with McCain’s establishinghimself on the side of fiscal conservatism.

“McCain made an excellent point when he talked about the cultureof greed, and how we can’t ignore $18 billion in earmarked funds,”he said. “And in that vein, he made Obama appear to be unconcernedwith $18 billion.”

Hoggatt said his guess is that talk until the election willcenter – for both candidates – around the war.

“In the homestretch I expect McCain to talk about the importanceof being a military leader, and whether you agree with the war ornot you need someone with real war experience to guide our troopsabroad and at home,” he said. “And Obama will point out that eventhough McCain has the experience, it’s in the old way of war andthat things can get muddled, and we’ll need a fresh viewpoint.”

Hoggatt said all the talk of the nation’s economy might beimportant as well, but that he believes in the end the bottom lineis the troops.

“No matter what’s going on with the economic crisis, what’sreally front and center in people’s minds is getting our boys backfrom Iraq,” he said.