FILE: President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (AP Photo)
Updated: Wednesday, 03 Oct 2012, 2:42 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 03 Oct 2012, 2:41 PM EDT
Unless one of the candidates makes a major mistake during the debate, the first debate is the most important. Unlike debates for other offices, or even Presidential debates in history, this campaign the swing states have been saturated by advertising from the two campaigns.
However, most of the nation has not seen the advertising blitz. Furthermore, convention ratings were significantly lower. While this could merely be a reflection of changing viewing patterns, it also could mean that turnout could be lower this election which heightens the importance events that reach many people such as this first debate.
Whether or not you have viewed lots of ads, watched the conventions, or are a political junkie who absorbs everything, this first debate is the first time the two candidates have faced off directly matching their personalities and opposing views.
The President has debated in a Presidential campaign before, where targeting swing voters and swing states is the key goal. Mitt Romney has not, only debating in primaries where appealing to the most ideological of your party’s supporters is key. Advantage: Obama.
The President is more personally charming on stage with a winning smile, self-depreciating humor and the willingness to make false claims without worrying about facts (such as his promise that health care would be free or that he would only tax the rich). Those tactics are important. Romney tends to have a more artificial public personality, just looks “rich” and too perfect, and is a numbers & charts guy. Advantage: Obama.
The President has a narrow, consistent lead of 2-3 points, probably larger in the key states of Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada. Advantage: Obama.
Given these points, Romney must gamble in this debate. Conventional wisdom is not to make a mistake. Conventional wisdom will lead to Romney losing. He must force the issues, push Obama by repeating some charges multiple times such as “the government takeover of health care,” reminding viewers of Obama’s put-down of the majority of Americans as “people who cling to their Bibles and their guns,” and showing how the President’s policies of weakness in foreign policy have led to unrest and dangers throughout the world. It is a risky strategy but the President has in the past displayed a thin skin, and starts to get arrogant in “correcting” his opponents. If Romney holds his ground and repeats the charge, Obama is likely to be a new version of Al Gore versus George Bush, turning off many voters and causing them to listen to the substance of Romney’s issue points.
I believe this election will turn on whether Romney can accomplish that goal.
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