President Barack Obama walks into the town hall-style presidential debate on the grounds of Hofstra University knowing that his bid for a second term could be salvaged by a strong performance or damaged beyond repair if he has a repeat of his Denver square-off with his Republican challenger.
Going into the first presidential debate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was trailing in most of the national polls and surveys taken in those states that are considered up for grabs.
Since then, Romney has overtaken Obama with a slight lead in most of the national polls and in many of the swing states. Furthermore, a few Democratic leaning states that were previously not considered in play are now within the margin of error.
Obviously the debates have had an effect in the general election and Obama can’t afford to botch Round II.
The president almost can’t help but do better than last time with the format that will be used on Tuesday evening where candidates will be taking questions from invited undecided voters and will have two minutes to respond.
Thus Obama will not be directly engaged with Romney but with the person asking the question and allowing him to work his rhetorical magic.
This should be a slam dunk for Obama with the format allows him to better utilize the very skills that took someone only four years removed from the state legislature into the Oval Office.
The advantage Obama has possessed from the beginning is that people really want to vote for him.
They like the guy. But the electorate has yet to be given a convincing reason why he should be re-elected. Instead they’ve been inudated with a flood of unkind insinuations on why they should not vote for the other guy.
Tuesday night won’t be a debate but an opportunity for the president to deliver a slew of mini-speeches on anticipated topics and if Obama can’t outperform Romney in this favorable environment, then Democrats would be right to be demoralized.
For Romney, style will matter as much as the substance of his arguments. Painted as a ruthless corporate executive by the Democratic mud machine, Romney has his own opportunity to demonstrate to the nation that the wealthy investor can connect with the average American.
How he handles the one-on-one with the town hall participants will decide what kind of night he’ll have and whether he was able to bolster his battered image.
Romney should spend some time on Tuesday aftenoon praying for serenity as the president will try to turn every question posed about his record into an attack on his opponent.
Obama has to be the aggressor on Tuesday night: his numbers are falling, it’s in his interest to take the spotlight of criticism off his administration for obvious reasons and the perpetually angry liberal activist wing demands blood.
Sure Vice-President Joe Biden looked like he was off his medication last week (or maybe that he took someonelse’s?), but Joe looked like a winner in the eyes of the picket-ready Democratic base. They want to see a fight.
Keeping the base motivated is critical for the party this November as a spiraling presidential campaign will be felt in the downticket races, most significantly with control of the senate teetering.
Tuesday night’s town hall “debate” would not be a good venue for Romney to exhibit self-righteous indignation no matter what the president says about him, his track-record as governor, his record at Bain Capital or his family.
As they say in The Godfather; it’s nothing personal, just business.
It would also be a good idea for Romney to leave his high-brow adjectives and adverbs on the campaign plane and not talk above the audience as he has done in some of the GOP debates held in he primaries.
Romney should also craft his answers in consumer prices and not financial statistics. He did so effectively in Round I, his running mate not so much in his lone debate.
Obama has his second crack at somehow packaging his past four years as president as a success while Romney must convince Americans that the multimillionaire investor feels their pain.
Making strong arguments and slinging zingers won’t hurt, but showing empathy and establishing a rapport will go a long way on Tuesday night.
Round II will be as much about people skills as the issues confronting the nation.
If Obama can’t come out on top in his specialty Tuesday night, then the president should start thumbing through the Oahu real estate listings during Marine One rides.