I've just finished watching the majority of tonight's debate, so I thought I would finally comment. First of all, Royal did a much better job during most of the debate itself in terms of TV behavior. Each candidate naturally repeated the same propositions that we have heard throughout the campaign, but Sarkozy was noticeably looking at the table or at the moderators, where as Royal was always looking intently across the table at Sarkozy.
Nevertheless, the conclusions gave me the reverse impression. Sarkozy either wear's his heart on his sleeve or is an excellent actor, for whenever he talks about the value of work and his intent to act, he comes across convincingly and charismatic. Royal, on the other hand, easily slipped into her "mother of four" speech, which ended up sounding trite and scripted.
Overall, this will lead voters to make up their minds only by reinforcing already established impressions. Neither candidate really stood out for the better or worse, which by default will hurt Royal. In tomorrow's Washington Post the article on the debate highlights Royal's instant of "anger" as a decisive moment.
In front of millions of television viewers, Sarkozy turned the tables. Royal got furious when he started talking about handicapped children, saying he was "playing" with the issue. "I am very angry," she said.
"You become unhinged very easily, Madame," said Sarkozy. "To be president of the republic, one must be calm. ... I don't know why Mrs. Royal, who's usually calm, has lost her calm."
If this becomes the defining moment of the debate, it could very well damage her, although I doubt it will do either. You can watch the interchange here. Watching it one starts to get flashbacks to that 1993 debate between the two, when a younger Segolene Royal refused to allow Sarkozy to interrupt her. It's reassuring to know that despite the differences in circumstances, they haven't much changed.
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