8 Questions

Dan Balz on what to expect
in the presidential debates

Question 4: Who is considered the better debater, Romney or Obama?

Romney. Obama. Obama. Romney. Ask the experts, from campaign strategists to political scientists and you get a split decision.

Some of them say that neither is a particularly good debater. They argue that Romney may have won most of the GOP debates this year, but he faced a weak field, while Hillary Rodham Clinton was a better debater than Obama during their nomination contest in 2008.

But both have demonstrated good debating skills, and both got better with more experience during their nomination battles. Romney won the debates that mattered most, and Obama helped seal his victory with a strong performance in his first debate against John McCain in 2008.

Those who give Romney the edge say that’s because he’s been through so many debates this year that he’s fully tuned up. Some see him more disciplined as a debater and less thin-skinned than the incumbent — although that doesn’t mean he can’t be thrown on the defensive. Recall his exchanges with Rick Perry in the GOP debates.

Obama, having not debated in four years, may be a little rustier than the challenger. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake noted that Obama’s is known more for motivational speaking rather than debating.

Those who give Obama the edge say he’s well briefed, smooth and, when on his game, unruffled. “Obama stays on message in debates, describes problems and policies in shorthand and smiles while using the scalpel,” said Rick Sloan, communications director of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

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