Head to head

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The Independent Online

Last night's US presidential election debate will have attracted the attention of millions of voters genuinely undecided about the merits of the two principal candidates: the affable if lackadaisical Texas governor, George W Bush, and the earnest if unnervingly stiff Vice-President, Al Gore.

Last night's US presidential election debate will have attracted the attention of millions of voters genuinely undecided about the merits of the two principal candidates: the affable if lackadaisical Texas governor, George W Bush, and the earnest if unnervingly stiff Vice-President, Al Gore.

These debates are often derided for their question-and-answer formats, which restrict the contestants from directly confronting each other. None the less, in more than one election, they have been credited with being decisive in determining the winner. Who can forget, who heard them, such telling lines as Ronald Reagan's relaxed: "There he goes again..." to yet another debating point chalked up by his opponent Jimmy Carter? Then there was Michael Dukakis's failure to display anger when asked whether he would favour the death penalty if his wife Kitty were raped. That such slips and wisecracks are not the stuff of national policy is just the point: Americans want leaders they feel comfortable with to be in charge of their country.

Who knows? Perhaps the unideological swing voters of Britain might appreciate a similar head-to-head series of encounters between Mr Hague and Mr Blair in our own forthcoming general election.

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