On Tuesday night, President Obama and Mitt Romney will take the stage again, this time at Hofstra University in New York. This meeting may have a different tone than their first; Obama, in particular, is under pressure to be more aggressive. But both candidates seem likely to return to the same basic sales pitch.
Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), have focused largely on their policy agenda, which was dominated by things they wanted to roll back — the health-care law, the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, income-tax rates.
The Democrats tend to cast the election less as a choice between ideas and more as a choice between people. Both Obama and Vice President Biden stressed their personal credibility, citing their work in office and the lessons of their upbringing. They attacked Romney and Ryan as aloof and uncaring.
“Look, folks, use your common sense,” Biden said Thursday night — talking specifically about Social Security, but also compressing the Democratic appeal into two sentences. “Who do you trust on this?”
The importance of the campaign’s first two debates was made clear in recent days by the zeal with which Obama and Romney prepared for the third. They sequestered themselves in swing-state hotels — Romney in Ohio, Obama in Williamsburg — engaging in mock debates at the expense of real-life campaigning.
It was worth it, the campaigns calculated, because of the powerful impact the first debate had on the race. The slow and steady gains that Obama had consolidated last month were all but erased by his poor showing.
The Fix wrote Tuesday that after Obama’s “
stinker of a performance the first time out,” the pressure is on him to perform:
Can Obama find a groove? There’s a common misconception floating around the political world that Obama is a proven and gifted debater who simply had an off night in the first debate. But a look back at the totality of Obama’s debate performances on the national stage suggests that his showing in Denver was not entirely inconsistent with what he has done in the past. During the 2008 general election debates against John McCain, Obama was sober, serious and guarded — in large part because he was clearly ahead and because the Arizona senator seemed to constantly be trying to score a 10-point basket. The result? The then-Illinois senator was deemed to be a (narrow) winner. While Obama was more animated in the 2008 debates than he was in the first presidential debate of this election, his style — professorial rather than populist — wasn’t much different. While the assumption is that Obama will do significantly better than he did the first time around, there’s a deeper, underlying question: What if Obama just isn’t a very good debater? He needs a strong showing this evening to dispel that notion.
Obama’s “porridge” question: In the first debate, Obama was clearly too cool, seemingly disengaged from the proceedings and giving off an “I want to be somewhere else” vibe. But, arguably, Joe Biden was too hot in the vice-presidential debate — scoffing at, laughing at and generally ridiculing Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan throughout the proceedings. For Obama to “win” this debate, he has to find some middle ground between his own debate performance and that of his vice president, with a finger on the scale toward being too hot rather than too cold. The issue with that strategy is that — as we mentioned above — it’s not really who Obama is. He is the cool, cerebral politician, not the knife-fighting scrapper who grinds out political victories. But tonight he’ll need to show some fight without coming across as manufacturing outrage. It’s a fine line to walk and a test that Obama has never really had to pass in past national debates.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, writes The Fix, benefited greatly from his performance in the first presidential debate – but that means higher expectations this time around:
Winning once is hard; winning twice is harder: Romney entered the first debate with large majorities assuming that Obama would whup him. Not so in this debate where, according to new Pew Research Center data, 41 percent of people think Obama will win and 37 percent think Romney will emerge victorious. In conversations with lots of sharp GOP operatives and elected officials, there is real concern that Romney benefited from a sort of perfect storm in the first debate (lots of economic talk, Obama checked out, a less-than-assertive moderator, etc.) that he simply won’t be able to re-create this time around. While we tend to think that is a bit too pessimistic — Romney has proven he is an able debater repeatedly during his two presidential bids — it is true that the GOP nominee almost certainly faces a tougher task in this debate than he did in the first one. Expectations are a tough thing to live up to — stepping over a low bar is a hallmark of The Fix’s professional life — and Romney’s first debate performance set the bar much, much higher, even if he’s not necessarily the clear favorite.
The debate will be the only town-hall style event of this election season, making how the candidates interact with voters an important factor. The debate moderator, Candy Crowly, has been at the center of a spat this week after it was reported that the campaigns did not want her to ask follow-up questions. But The Post’s Paul Farhi writes that she isn’t backing down:
The CNN reporter and host said Monday that she intends to take an active part in the town-hall-style debate, despite efforts by the campaigns of Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney to curtail her role.
The campaigns told the sponsoring Commission on Presidential Debates they were concerned that Crowley would ask the candidates follow-up questions after a pre-selected group of voters posed theirs. Campaign reps said that was outside the debate rules and voiced their concerns Monday to debate commission Co-Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf.
Crowley left little doubt Monday that she plans to function as a journalist during the debate at Hofstra University in New York. On CNN’s “The Situation Room,” she told colleague Wolf Blitzer: “I’m trying to just know what the facts are, what the [candidates’] positions are, so that when something comes up that maybe could use a little further explanation, it might be as simple as: ‘But the question, sir, was oranges and you said apples. Could you answer oranges?’ Or it might be as simple as: ‘But, gee, how does that fit with the following thing?’”
Crowley is the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate; Carole Simpson, then of ABC News, moderated a similar town-hall-style debate in 1992. Simpson didn’t initiate questions but did ask follow-up questions. Former network anchors Tom Brokaw and Charlie Gibson have also moderated town-hall debates.