What if the presidential debate is boring? It could happen.

October 2, 2012

Amid all the hype about Wednesday night's debate being the political event to end all political events, it's important to remember that there's a very real chance that the set-to delivers far less drama than the political class seems to believe it will.

 During a campaign appearance Sunday night in Las Vegas, President Obama seemed to be bracing the political world for a lack of fireworks in Wednesday night's debate.

"What I'm most concerned about is having a serious discussion about what we need to do to keep the country growing and restore security for hardworking Americans," Obama said. "That's what people are going to be listening for.  That's the debate that you deserve."

Rhetoric aside, there's plenty of reason to believe that the first debate will be played between the 40 yard lines -- sports metaphor alert!!! -- rather than the sort of up and down the field affair that much of the political world seems to expect.

Among the reasons why substance could well trump style Wednesday night:

* Obama is a cautious debater. This was true even during the primary fight when then Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was the frontrunner for the Democratic nod.  Obama would occasionally take the fight to Clinton but was far more willing to let former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards do the heavy lifting on that front.  Obama's caution was even more evident during the general election debates when he really played a sort of ball control offense -- sports metaphor times TWO! -- and tried to make as little news as possible, knowing he was winning.  There's little reason to believe -- either in his public statements or the private readouts from his debate prep -- that Obama will break with that general philosophy on Wednesday night.

* Romney isn't a risk taker -- and doesn't need to be. For all the coverage last week that the race was over unless Romney changed the game -- worst. cliche. ever. -- on Wednesday night, there's a slew of national polls already out this week that suggest Romney is well within striking distance of Obama. Combine that new reality with Romney's play-it-safe nature and there's little reason to believe that the former Massachusetts governor comes out swinging for the fences -- one too many sports metaphors? -- on Wednesday night. It's not who he is and he has shown in the past that when he tries to break character, it doesn't work out so well. ($10,000 bet, anyone?) 

* Practice, practice, practice = no slipups: Unlike during the Republican presidential primary race when the candidates were debating two and occasionally three(!) times a week, Wednesday night is one of three total debates between Romney and Obama. That means that the level of preparation for the two candidates will be far higher than it was for Romney during the primaries. (Remember that Romney was already doing debate prep during the Democratic National Convention.)  While it's impossible to eliminate all possibility of surprise, the more practice (generally) a politician gets, the better equipped he (or she) is to deal with almost every potential debate development. Genuinely unscripted moments disappear (or come close to disappearing) with so much preparation and both men are putting in the hours to make sure they are ready.

Remember, too, that the first debate may function -- particularly in its first 30 minutes or so -- as a feeling out period for both men as they try to gain the measure of their rival. Combine all of those factors and it's at least as likely that Wednesday's debate produces a whimper as it does a bang.

RGA raises $14.8 million in the third quarter: The Republican Governors Association's 527 arm brought in nearly $15 million from July through September, for a total of $88 million for the cycle.

The RGA, which has consistently outraised its Democratic counterpart, did not immediately disclose its cash on hand figure. The Democratic Governors Association has not yet released any of its its third quarter figures. 

Republicans are playing a lot of offense across the gubernatorial landscape this cycle: The party is defending 3 seats to Democrats' eight. Republicans have strong pickup opportunities in North Carolina, Montana, New Hampshire and Washington state.

Fixbits:

A new WMUR-TV/University of New Hampshire poll shows Obama leading Romney by 15 in the Granite State.

Former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway has endorsed Romney on the eve of a debate in Denver. Elway is a regular contributor to Republican candidates.

So what exactly is Romney's simple message?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is avoiding questions about the ethical cloud hanging over his close friend Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.).

Maine Senate frontrunner Angus King (I) is up with a new ad hitting Republican Charlie Summers for supporting "no taxes ever," among other issues.

King releases seven years worth of tax returns.

new ad from Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) in the Wisconsin Senate race hits former governor Tommy Thompson (R) as a Washington insider.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) leads by 10 points in a new poll for the Columbus Dispatch.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's (R) chief of staff is leaving her office to ramp up her 2014 reelection effort.

Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O'Malley (D) challenges his GOP counterpart, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, to a push-up contest. We wouldn't recommend it.

A new RGA ad casts Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) as bad for small businesses.

In the Washington governor’s race, the latest RGA ad says the pension plan former congressman Jay Inslee (D) has signed onto puts first responders’ retirement at risk.

The DCCC pulls reserved ad time in a few districts, apparently cutting loose Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) and the district vacated by Senate candidate Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

Republicans are no longer running ads against Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa.).

A pollster that once showed Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) trailing by 15 points now shows him up six.

Must-reads:

"Would Romney be 'most religious' president? What about Carter?" -- Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

"10 Early Voting States' Downticket Races to Watch" -- Shira Toeplitz, Roll Call

"Romney’s ‘47 percent’ comments aren’t going away, and they’re taking a toll" -- Philip Rucker, Washington Post

"Americans for Prosperity puts big money on legislative races in Arkansas" -- T.W. Farnam, Washington Post

Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.
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Sean Sullivan · October 1, 2012