Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Some Thoughts On Debate #2

Here are some thoughts on what to watch for in tonight's' debate.

Despite the fact that the race is a virtual tie--yes the polls are accurate, and I'd argue they always have been--the momentum is still in Romney's direction.  If Romney gives a performance as dominant as the one he gave two weeks ago, the election may be over.  Every point in the polls is so valuable right now that a lead of 2 or 3% will be very difficult to overcome.  Undecideds are just LOOKING for an excuse to vote for Romney.  But they are still not entirely convinced.  A second, clear debate win could seal the deal for them.  

That being said, a repeat performance of the first debate will be difficult to achieve for several reasons.

First, everyone expects for Obama to come out swinging.  He's going to go on offense.  Obama may pull a Biden and simply filibuster, interrupting and talking over Romney thus, preventing him from responding to his attacks.  This tactic is rude and is not at all presidential, but it may work. Aggressiveness is often mistaken for strength and can shift focus away from the substance of what a candidate is saying.  Romney needs to keep the energy at Obama's level while at the same time avoid appearing mean or unlikable.  That's a tall order for Romney who has likability problems, but made huge strides in overcoming that negative perception in the first debate. Keeping Obama on the defensive over Benghazi for as long as possible will help as well.

Next, the debate format favors Obama.  This president does one thing well.  One thing.  He gives great speeches.  That's it. It's his only discernible talent. The town hall format allows a candidate to grab the mic and talk directly to the people in the audience.  So he can rely far more on the prepared talking points that failed him in the last debate.  He doesn't have to respond to a moderator or directly to Romney.  He can give a series of short speeches and that plays to Obama's strengths.  It is unclear how Romney will perform in this environment.

Finally, assuming a draw or a slight Romney victory,  Romney's spin team must be super-aggressive in getting the word out on why their candidate prevailed.  Obama surrogates and allies in the MSM understand that their guy is on the ropes. So even if Obama spends the entire debate drooling on himself while reciting nursery rhymes--which would be awesome--expect Team Obama to go over the top in proclaiming how great he was and how badly he beat Romney.  Even if it's not true.

If an incumbent president stumbles in the first debate, the second is usually where he regains his footing.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan knocked out Walter Mondale after having a poor first debate with one line.

George W. Bush put forth a solid performance against John Kerry in the second debate vastly improving on his lackluster performance a week earlier.

But neither of those second debates were preceded by one in which the challenger dominated the sitting president the way Mitt Romney did two weeks ago.  

If Romney get's lucky and Obama stumbles or doesn't bring his "A" game, he could gain more steam and build a nearly insurmountable lead by weeks end.  But the bar is super-low for Obama tonight.  If he improves on his performance, the bleeding will be stopped and we're back to dead heat.  If he dominates Romney, Obama could get his post-convention lead back.  If that happens, then Romney is in big trouble.

- Dan Joseph

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