According to RealClearPolitics.com, the blue talking points have opened a three-point lead over the red talking points in the race to November.
In the Electoral College the blue campaign strategists need only amass 33 of 110 tossup votes while the red ones need 79. Winning these decisive battles will tell us everything about who gets to stand under the falling balloons on November 6 and very little about the direction of the country thereafter.
Though unforeseen events might play a decisive role, the presidential debates are the last predictable chance for voters to know what they are in for. Will the talking points prevail or will we actually learn anything?
What questions would you ask?
There will be four presidential debates this year: three matching President Obama and former Governor Romney; and one matching Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan. They will take place on October 3, 11, 16 and 22 in Colorado, Kentucky, New York and Florida.
Given the level of discussion thus far, they might be our only chance to determine which team will serve the country better going forward. Definitely not the moment for “boxers vs. briefs” or “who do you like in the World Series.”
The moderators will be Jim Lehrer (host of NewsHour on PBS), Martha Raddatz (ABC News, Chief Foreign Correspondent), Candy Crowley (CNN, Chief Political Correspondent) and Bob Schieffer (Host of Face the Nation on CBS).
The first debate will focus on domestic policy and be divided into six 15-minute segments on topics to be selected by Lehrer and announced several weeks before the debate. Unfortunately, the two campaigns have required advanced knowledge of the questions to avoid potential embarrassment, but, after 2-minute answers, the moderator should have about 10 minutes to guide the discussion.
The second debate involving the vice presidential candidates will focus on both foreign and domestic policy and will be divided into nine 10-minute segments. Raddatz, the moderator, will ask a question and each candidate will have 2 minutes to answer after which there will be a 5 minute discussion. Interestingly, it does not appear that these questions will be submitted to the campaigns in advance.
Next, the presidential candidates will face off in a town meeting format on both foreign and domestic policy. Town meeting participants, consisting of undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization, will question the candidate, who will have 2 minutes to respond followed by 1 minute of discussion facilitated by moderator Crowley.
The final debate will focus on foreign policy using the same format as the first, presumably with questions again submitted to the campaigns in advance by moderator, Schieffer.
The first presidential debate took place between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. At most, they are a tradition, and participation is certainly not mandatory. Each campaign has to weigh the potential benefits of appearing against the risks of an answer that could end a candidacy. Not surprisingly, there is much negotiation of the format and, importantly, the selection of the moderators. Each campaign holds out for the best deal it can get under threat of a boycott though that too would be exploited by the other side.
No doubt, the debate negotiations are complicated but the challenges presented to the moderators might be more so. Moderating a presidential debate is a coveted and prestigious assignment. Those selected have to be acceptable to both parties, which quickly eliminates partisan voices. For a potential moderator, there must surely be a temptation to ingratiate one’s self with each campaign by lobbing marshmallows instead of probing. On the other hand, that would draw approbation from one’s fellow professionals.
If anything at all is to be learned during six nationally televised hours in October, much will depend on the questions.
What would you ask?