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Hopefuls will need the right moves

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Forget about heartfelt speeches and clever banter. White House hopefuls, let's see a little dais action.

Voter appeal, public image and media presence could hinge on a precise gesture or confident stride, at least according to a trio of "movement specialists" who have analyzed the walk, the talk and even the jawlines of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.

"Movement reveals a great deal about a person's decision-making style and ways of taking action. The American people need to keep an eye on the candidates' behaviors as much as what comes out of their mouths," said Karen Bradley, an associate professor of dance at the University of Maryland.

She has watched the pair for months and is convinced that beneath those behaviors lies a well-defined political duel.

"This presidential contest is over stability for the country versus mobilizing in new directions, and the candidates embody that choice. We have not had this clear a competition in many years," Ms. Bradley said.

Two other dance and theater professors, Karen Studd of George Mason University and Jennifer Mizenko of the University of Mississippi, also weighed in on the candidates.

Mr. McCain ultimately emerged as "a man of solidity and immovability," the three said in their analysis. "His ability to plant himself, hold on to the sides of a podium and hold his ground provides his supporters with a sense of comfort that he will remain steadfast."

Mr. Obama appears less the fireplug.

"Contrast that steadiness with Barack Obama's gaze to the future, his ability to cover the ground as he strolls about the stage space, leisurely, relaxed and open," they noted.

The candidates' respective physiques came under scrutiny last month after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that at two of three scheduled debates this fall, the pair would be seated at a table rather than standing at a podium.

Mr. Obama, who is 6 feet 1 inch tall, would lose his "height advantage" to Mr. McCain, who is 5 feet 9 inches, according to press accounts at the time.

While assorted statistics over the years reveal that taller candidates win the presidency up to 84 percent of the time, that did not prove to be true in 2004. President Bush is 5 feet 11 inches; his opponent, John Kerry, is 6 feet 4 inches.

But height isn't all. Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama apparently nurture their touchy-feely sides as well.

"Both men have a clear sense of taking stock internally and both are innately private. That may surprise some of their supporters, but it bodes well for their individual abilities to take care of themselves in times of great stress," Ms. Studd said.

"But there is a clear difference in their preferences for how they express that interior caretaking. Senator Obama has an ease with his inner focus, whereas Senator McCain demonstrates some tautness internally. You can see it in how tense his jaw is," she added.

The three movement specialists have monitored the physical charisma and body language of the presidential field hopefuls since 2006. Their work will continue to Election Day, and is particularly attuned to telling changes in candidate behaviors - particularly role reversals. Imagine, say, a breezy Mr. McCain and a strident Mr. Obama.

"The most important question for the American people will be, 'What will we know about each man by November?'" Ms. Bradley said.

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