First debate sets up moment of high-risk theater

President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney come face to face for the first time in this presidential campaign Wednesday night for a nationally televised debate that will give millions of Americans a chance to size up two fierce competitors in a moment of high-risk theater.
Associated Press
Oct 3, 2012

Romney, trailing in polls in a number of key states and running short on time to reverse his fortunes, is angling for a breakout performance in the three 90-minute presidential debates scheduled over the next three weeks.

Obama, well aware that the remaining five weeks of the race still offer enough time for tectonic shifts in his prospects, is determined to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes as he presses his case for a second term.

A pre-debate skirmish Tuesday over Vice President Joe Biden's passing reference to "a middle class that has been buried the last four years" demonstrated how just a few words can mushroom into something larger during a heated contest for the White House.

Wednesday's 9 p.m. EDT faceoff between Obama and Romney on domestic policy at the University of Denver is sure to offer a blend of choreography and spontaneity: Both men have spent hours rehearsing smart lines and pithy comebacks with proxy opponents — yet know to expect the unexpected.

"That's what so tricky about this," says Alan Schroeder, author of a book on presidential debates. "There's never a template for preparing because each one takes its own direction."

The central role of the economy in this election is evident in the topics selected for the first three of the night's six debate segments: The Economy I, The Economy II and The Economy III. The last three segments will focus on health care, the role of government and governing.

Romney has pinned his campaign on the argument that Obama has failed to adequately juice up the U.S. economy, but his challenge is reflected in recent polls showing growing public optimism about the economy and the president's leadership. His case got tougher after a secret video revealed Romney telling donors that it's not his job to care about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes and believe they are victims.

Romney tried to address accusations that he doesn't care about those voters with a new ad Wednesday in which the casually dressed candidate looks at the camera and acknowledges the struggles of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. "We should measure our compassion by how many of our fellow Americans are able to get good-paying jobs, not how many are on welfare. My economic plan will get America back to work and strengthen the middle class," he says.

Republicans tried to frame the economic debate in their terms Tuesday by pointing to the vice president's comments in North Carolina about the beleaguered middle class as an unwitting acknowledgment that Obama's economic policies have devastated average Americans.

"We agree," GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan declared in Iowa. "That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next president of the United States."

Obama's camp countered that it was the policies of the president's Republican predecessors that had caused the damage.

Biden, at a later campaign event, was careful to say that "the middle class was buried by the policies that Romney and Ryan supported," calling their economic plans an amped-up rework of those from the George W. Bush years.

Romney calls Wednesday's debate the beginning of a monthlong "conversation with the American people," and the debates do tend to consume much of the political oxygen for several crucial weeks.

The candidates will be speaking to a TV audience of tens of millions in one of those rare moments when a critical mass of Americans collectively fix their attention on one event. Fifty-two million people tuned in to the first debate four years ago, and 80 percent of the nation's adults reported watching at least a bit of the debates between Obama and Republican John McCain in 2008.

The two campaigns on Wednesday announced new websites — http://debates.mittromney.com and http://barackobama.com/debate — to respond to their opponent in real time.

In a quadrennial pre-debate ritual, each campaign has worked overtime to raise expectations for the opponent while lowering the bar for its own candidate. The thinking is that it's better to exceed lukewarm expectations than to fail to perform at an anticipated level of great skill.

But both men are seasoned debaters: Obama has been here before, facing off with McCain in 2008. Romney hasn't gone one on one in a presidential debate, but he got plenty of practice thinking on his feet during 19 multicandidate debates held during the Republican primaries.

On a long day of debate prep — Romney in Denver and Obama in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas — both candidates tried to blow off some steam Tuesday. The president made a tourist's visit to nearby Hoover Dam, and Romney fit in a lunchtime outing to a Mexican grill for a burrito bowl.

The two candidates' biggest fans talked up their debating abilities in pre-debate interviews.

Michelle Obama told CNN she's like a nervous parent watching a child performing on the balance beam when her husband debates.

"I do tell him to have fun and relax and just be himself, because the truth is, if he's the Barack Obama the country has come to know and trust, he is going to do a great job," she said.

Ann Romney said her husband always looks around to find her in the debate audience and keeps a paper in front of him that says "Dad" — to remind him to make his father proud.

As for her advice, Mrs. Romney told KMGH-TV in Denver that she tells her husband: "Sweetie, you had five boys. You learned to argue really well and make your points years ago. Just go do that."

Wednesday's format: The moderator, PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, will open each 15-minute segment with a question, and Obama and Romney each will have two minutes to answer. After that, it's up to Lehrer to keep the conversation going and to intervene if one candidate goes on too long.

Obama and Romney have a two-track mission with debate viewers: Motivate core supporters to turn out and vote — at a time when early voting already is under way in many states — and try to lock in some new supporters from among the small subset of viewers who haven't settled on a candidate or whose support for one man or the other is squishy.

The viewers who matter most live in the contested battleground states that will determine which candidate gets to 270 electoral votes on Nov. 6: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and, to a lesser extent, Wisconsin.

Recent national polls show the two candidates in a tight race among likely voters. But Obama has the advantage in many of the battlegrounds, including Colorado.

Romney and Obama debate again Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla. Biden and Ryan have their lone debate on Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky.

Obama plans to use the first presidential debate as the hook for fundraisers and recruiting volunteers. Former President Bill Clinton will be in Boston on Wednesday night for Obama, with donors paying $20,000 a person. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is headlining a New York fundraiser.

The Obama campaign plans more than 4,000 debate-watching events around the country. And Biden is scheduled to hold a live discussion with supporters that will be streamed online after the debate.

The Romney camp planned 336 debate parties at restaurants, bars, grills, VFW halls and other sites concentrated in battleground states.

 

Comments

thinkagain

The narcissist-in-chief clearly looked irritated several times during the debate. He sure is an arrogant smuck to think that after four years of failure, anyone would vote for him. The metaphor about the blind leading the blind comes to mind.

2cents

Thank you God for showing us the man without his teleprompter and others pulling his strings!

Just saying!

kURTje

We know how we will vote. Its that E-z.

goofus

Pete, the over and under for Oboz's ums' was 135. I won the over!!!!

Pete

Congrats!

I should have found a bookie or phoned my cousin in Vegas and put a Grant on it.

goofus

Pete, the over and under for Oboz's ums' was 135. I won the over!!!!

Pete

"The CNN/ORC International poll of 430 people who watched the debate showed 67% thought Romney won, compared to 25% for Obama."

Was there a problem with the high-speed link between Obie's ear piece and Nancy & Harry's mic? They must not have been able to tell what to say fast enough.
Poor little president seems to have issues thinking on his own...

Swamp Fox

It was simple, Romney handed out a good old fashioned whooping to Obama.. Obama in the words of his vice president, "buried the middle class", just like Romney did to him.......

Pete

Chris Matthews had a major meltdown after Obama's Epic Fail in the debate.

Cannot wait to see the video. That should be good.

IbetBrutushadonetoo.

Pete

Oh that was hilarious! Matthews almost popped a vein in his head.

Contango

Jim Lehrer losing control helped provide one of the best back-and-forth Presidential candidate debate formats I've ever seen.

Without an audience to cheer him and to feed on, Mr. Obama appeared off his game. The contents of his speech seemed uncoordinated and poorly pieced together from campaign rhetoric.

The Campaigner-in-Chief appeared uncomfortable, stammered at times and looked like he couldn't wait to get it over with and hit another fundraiser or talk show.

About Mr. Obama's closing statement: That's the one you practice and have down 'cold.' It sounded like he threw it together on the fly - very, very poor.

Mr. Obama said that he was "OK" as a debater; guess he needed to prove it.

I watched a little bit of MSNBC afterwards in order to get their reaction and they faulted Mr. Romney for taking over the debate and not playing fair.

As someone Tweeted: I hope he and Michelle celebrated their anniversary earlier because the mood of the night was ruined.

Mr. Obama is 0-1.

rickross2

Correction: America-1 Obama-0

The New World Czar

No Bill Clinton available to bail Obama out. Summing it up, the emperor got pantsed by Romney.

Contango

Our Obamasheeple "blog buddies" must be in shock about Bill Maher's tweets:

"i can't believe i'm saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter"

"Obama made a lot of great points tonight. Unfortunately, most of them were for Romney"

Swamp Fox

In the debate Obama was like the old prank, the burning bag on the porch, when you stomp it out, well we alll know what you step in....

Pete

Where are all the liberals on here?

Crying in their Kool-Aid today it would seem.

sanduskysteve

I'm not crying in anything... In fact, I didn't hear or see anything new in Romney - it was the same old same old crap - no details on plans - not a single thing to tell me how he will do what he claims he will do. I did notice though that he really threw Ryan under the bus. Ryan has been touting all over that Romney was for his budget - but last night - Romney made it clear he hasn't released any details of how he would do his "deeds". He claimed that nobody could have checked the numbers on the plan because he hasn't created the plan yet - meaning --- he does not support Ryan's budget OR he lied once again - as he usually does - especially when he gets backed into a corner.

Obama clearly stated the details of cuts in the Ryan budget and Romney denied that they were in his plan.

See my previous post for more details on how I think things went down last night. Romney still hasn't convinced me of anything other than he probably WILL lower taxes for the middle class - unfortunately - it's HIS version fo the middle class - not reality.

Pete

You were going to vote D no matter who they ran, or who the R's ran. Don't try and kid us that you would have been swayed to vote another way.

You are a straight ticket voter. And from what you say on here, always have been.

Obama has been a failure. If you cannot see that, then no debate is going to help your vision.

In case you haven't noticed, the economy is still in the dumper. And Obama owns it. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I will stick with Romney. He HAS to be better than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

KnuckleDragger

The majority of Americans polled disagree with your assessment. Also, I would like for you to provide a link showing proof that Romney has said that the middle class is anyone making over $200K/yr. I'm waiting...talking out your backside again. Obama looked so bad last night that now you have to make stuff up to get your point across. Also if you listened to the speech Romney made post-debate, he is quoted as saying, "I absolutely will not lower the tax rates of wealthy Americans." Pretty much sums it up.

sanduskysteve

knuckledragger - you go look up where he said that - it has been stated many times by him - and he also has stated many times that he is going to reduce the tax rate for the rich - he also stated in the debate he is lowering taxes by 20% across the board - that, my friend includes the rich - doesn't it? If you want proof you can look it up yourself, I don't have time to explain it to you. Also, those polls are not a true polling of the americans or even a close majority of the americans. The majority of only those who were polled agree with you - who was polled, what party are they registered to? You can do polling and make it very skewed if you wish - asking a bunch of republicans, such as yourself, who won would not surprise me to come out that Romney won. Even you should be able to realize that.

Last thing - if he has such a great record - why isn't he winning in Massachusetts???? They hate him there because of what he did - and just for the record - he had the poorest record for job creation while he was in MA. But all of a sudden he is an expert at that??? Taking money from the middle class will never increase jobs.

Pete

Not even a youtube link Steve? Come on, you can at LEAST find that!

And as far as not leading in Mass, isn't that the same state that forgave a democrat for drowning his girlfriend in a river?

sanduskysteve

Funny, when facts don't help you - you start changing the subject. What I meant is that the people in MA do not like him and the FACTS there show he did not create jobs - he raised taxes on the poor and middle class - and various other things. The people in MA feel the same way about him and his beliefs that the rest of us - outside of your little world feel about him.

He lies and twists things and flip-flops more than a fish out of water. Everything he is against today he was for not too long ago. Just like the budget - now he is against the Ryan budget, but only a month ago, he was for the budget. he doesn't like anything Ryan stands for according to his statements in the debate - but only a few weeks ago Ryan was "the man".

His ego is way to much for him to handle and his lies are soo frequent he can't remember which one he told yesterday.

Pete

And what about Obama's ego? That narcissist has one of the biggest egos to ever hold office.

Your fish out of water comment refers more to your Messiah. He appeared he didn't have time to deal with the viewing public. He is far too important than to waste his time with us isn't he?

Obama lies every time his lips move. Remember his "I will slash the deficit in half" or his "the attacks on the embassy in Libya were spontaneous and not an act of terrorism" or his "I will not increase taxes on the Middle Class"

Go ahead and vote straight ticket D again. You know you will.

sanduskysteve

Actually, I have voted R many times in the past as well as in state elections for that matter. I refuse to vote in someone that can't keep his story straight from one day to the next. I won't vote for someone show constantly complains that we need smaller government and less regulations while at the same time attempting to regulate everything concerning certain personal issues - like gays, women's bodies, and attempting to destroy my taxes as well as my social security. I also am not too keen on the idea that he will be helping me even if he does lower my tax rate if he is then going to take away my deductions. How does that help me? I'll be paying the same amount in the end. It will cancel each other out. While at the same time - the rich still pays less - the oil companies can still reap large tax refunds while making millions and millions in profit in the result of not paying any taxes at all.

You put Ron Paul o nthe ticket and I'll vote republican. I'm sure by now the GOP would have rather hand that.

Obamatron

The Chancellor is displeased with the debate!
Pelosi and Reid did this. It is all their fault. Chancellor Obama has been puppeteered by the true failures, Pelosi and Reid. They pushed him into a Presidency before his time. He was used by them, and was assured that they knew what they were doing!

The Democrat Party is now on the Chancellor's shh-LIST. If they needed some way to dress up their agenda, they should have used Hillary as their 2008 nominee. It is utterly detestable of them to use, and make a mockery of, the first Black Presidency in this way!
The Democrat Party was an enemy to Black America in the 1800's,..and what has changed!?

Chancellor Obama will return, in a decade or so (and will be a President unto himself, the Force willing, at that time),..but he will return as Darth Sidious!
The Democrat Party has been put on notice. The EMPEROR will remember their deeds. No matter how devoted they are to deploying the media soundbytes mechanism to spin the debate in a positive light for the Chancellor, he will...remember their deeds. read: "Execute...Order..66."

Lord Sidious will smile, with a gleam in his eye, as Paul Ryan does far worse to Joe Biden in the Vice Presidential debates on October 11th.
Traitors, they all...henceforth.

Contango

If he looked that unprepared and incompetent against Mr. Romney, imagine how he poorly he would personally stand up in talks with a seasoned punk like Iran's Ahmadinejad?

Libya was Pres. Obama's 3:00 AM call. And he failed as Hillary Clinton had warned the nation that he would.

Darwin's choice
The Big Dog's back

So Robot willard comes out and lies about his plans and you think this is good? Really? How many times was he asked how he was going to pay for his "new" plan and he didn't answer?

Pete

What lies Brutus?

List lies here and provide credible links disproving what Romney said.

You are just all upset that America got to see your Messiah for what he truly is. A hapless dolt.

Randy_Marsh

As a libertarian i am willing to entertain your proof. Please provide the links and reason for your belief. I personally would like to see Obama's plan and how he plans on doing anything. I know his record so i can spot his lies pretty quick, But please provide ANY proof other than your left wing opinion blogs you usually post.

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