Your Guide to Watching the Second Presidential Debate!
Tomorrow night is the second of the three Presidential debates. This is critically important for both the Democrats and the Republicans. Mitt Romney, who many believed to be dead in the water, was revitalized as a candidate after the first debate in Denver–but some polls suggest that he may be losing the edge. President Obama has promised to be aggressive. Will you be watching? (We promise we’ll post another drinking game for y’all! Feel free to offer some suggestions!)
Some important points to keep in mind while watching the debate:
This is must-win for Governor Romney too. We all know that President Obama needs to win decisively in order to regain the momentum. But Romney needs to have as strong as a win as he did last time–or he’ll be branded by the media narrative as a “one-hit wonder” of sorts. (Remember when we discussed how in the debates, what matters is the post-debate spin, not the debate itself?) President Obama has promised to be aggressive, and Vice President Biden’s base-riling performance last week in Kentucky shows that the administration is serious about that promise. Romney will come out swinging. He will try to make President Obama look weak, confused and docile. Expect him to try and steer the debate towards the Benghazi attacks as fast as possible. Most Americans see the administration’s handling of the situation–and the initial decision to emphasize the YouTube video–as a failure. More importantly, the administration has not offered up a clear and cohesive narrative.
The town hall format is going to favor President Obama. If you’re unfamiliar, the questions will be asked by audience members, not the moderator. The audience will be composed of Hofstra University students. Mitt Romney’s biggest struggle, since the earliest days of his campaign, has been to appear relatable. He has been trying to convince the American people that he understands their plight. His campaign has been full of stories of him trying–and failing. (Remember when he said “y’all?”) In comparison, President Obama, despite being cool, reserved, and calm–almost to a fault–has always been able to have seemingly natural moments of human interaction. (For example: when he let a little boy feel his hair, or was bear-hugged by a pizzeria owner.) In order for Mitt Romney to keep up his momentum, he will need to come across as human and empathetic–more so than he has for the past year.
Both candidates need to make a case for themselves, not for their policies. Policy wonks (which is what political nerds call themselves) love debates with lots of details and numbers, but for most of the American voting population, the minutiae of platforms don’t stick. (There’s a reason why the most memorable line of the first debate was Romney’s crack about Big Bird.) In any case, people don’t necessarily vote for a candidate based on his policy: they vote on who is a better leader. Governor Romney and–more importantly–President Obama needs to make the case for why he is the best candidate for moral leadership of the U.S. President Obama should make the case for his values, and then link them to his policies, not the other way around.
Expect President Obama to also call out Mitt Romney for being untruthful and misleading–but expect him to do it in a much calmer way. There won’t be any laughing from him. It wouldn’t look genuine. Even if you think that Joe Biden came off as unhinged, rather than passionate, last week, he created a line. As long as President Obama doesn’t roll his eyes and laugh while Romney’s speaking, he can’t be branded overly aggressive. Don’t think for a second that he will let the 47% comment go untouched.
We still might not see issues like abortion, equal pay, and birth control get the attention they deserve. Mitt Romney knows that he can’t win on that and President Obama knows that he won’t lose that demographic. In addition, the questions will be asked by undecided but registered voters from Nassau County, N.Y. That’s where I grew up (though I don’t vote there). Economic issues and taxes have always been what draws Nassau County voters to Republicans, not social issues. (To a lesser extent, so do national security issues–the county borders New York City and contains a huge population of people who commute to Manhattan for work, and the events of September 11th left an indelible mark on the area.) In that area, if you are passionate about women’s reproductive rights or about banning abortion, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be undecided. Undecided voters in Nassau County are undecided because of the economy. Any questions about social issues will most likely be framed through that.
No one’s going to ask ‘sausage or pepperoni?’ Even Pizza Hut has backed down. If they do, well, in the words of Stephen Colbert: What could be more American than using our electoral process for product placement?
What do you think we’ll see during the debate? What do you think each candidate needs to accomplish?
Written by Jess Mary Aloe
Follow her on Twitter! She’ll probably be live-tweeting the debates from a bar…a.k.a the NYC living room.