Face the nation
Both candidates need to bring their A game in tonight’s debate
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
After months of campaigning and preparation, the gloves go on tonight for the first presidential debate. In one corner, wearing blue, incumbent and President of the United States Barack Obama. In the other, donning red, Republican nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Most of the importance is being put on Romney, but this debate is crucial for both candidates.
Rasmussen Reports Daily Tracking Poll shows President Obama attracting support from 48 percent of voters and Mitt Romney attracting 47 percent. Other polls published this week have the candidates within three points of each other.
While most people have already made their decision, there are still the swing voters left to be accounted for. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in April found nearly a quarter of registered voters (23 percent) identified themselves as swing voters, and Romney and Obama are still heavily campaigning in nine states.
Notice the strange shift in responsibility that’s currently going on. When Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan started downplaying how important this is for his running mate, you knew it was because Romney isn’t quite as secure as he’d like to be yet. But when Obama began complimenting Romney on being a great debater and Romney on Obama being a great speaker, that’s when the nation got a small glimpse into the candidates’ minds. Neither is as secure as he’d like to be.
In a sense, this isn’t a debate between Obama and Romney; it’s Romney versus Romney – the Romney who knows how to debate versus the Romney who doesn’t know when to shut up.
But if Romney’s biggest challenge to overcome is himself, then so is the president’s. At first look, it would seem Obama could just play it safe to come out on top, but he, too, needs to aim high. You wouldn’t know it from the last few weeks of campaigning, but Romney is great with his words, and he’s a great debater. He’s cool, comes back quickly and knows how and when to hit hard.
The only problem is he has a lot of ground to make up. Vague economic plans, and the now-infamous “47 percent” remarks are all working against him. He’s going to have to dodge Obama’s comments and come out with a clear victory, not just a free pass.
The president has already developed a system that he’s sticking with, but Romney’s campaign is doused in ambiguity. He has to come out hard tonight and make his plans known, especially since the debate topics will mostly cover the economy and domestic policy.
And keep this in mind: this is Romney’s debut on this stage. The Republican nominee campaigned in 2008 but never received the party nomination. Tonight will mark the first of three times he will share the national stage with the president. As long as he doesn’t screw up, he should get a boost from the debate. And knowing him, that’s easier said than done.
Who thinks the debate is important? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie does. So does MSNBC host Alex Wagner, who likened Romney’s task to “the moment where he has to pull a sword from the stone à la King Arthur.”
Romney is in the unenviable position in that respect. The Republican nominee almost has to have that breakthrough moment or at least make sure to prove a point. But in the same sense, President Obama has to prove he can effectively govern a second term and turn the economy around.
Expect them to come out swinging hard for those swing voters because they both need to quickly turn their games around on the stage tonight.