Tonight, President Obama will face his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, for the first debate. Although both candidates will have spent dozens of hours preparing, live debates inject a dose of improvisation into the scripted world of political theater. The two candidates will spar over the economy, health care, the role of government, and governing.
The topics of the first debate are likely the most important issues that voters will consider when they cast their ballots in November. They also present particular challenges for each candidate. For example, although the Republican Party has articulated an ideological opposition to health care, Mitt Romney's administration provided the prototype for the health care law while serving as governor of Massachusetts. President Obama also faces difficulty in discussing the economy. He must acknowledge the financial distress that still afflicts many Americans, discuss how his policies improved the economy, and advance a plan to move forward.
According to reports, Romney has practiced hurling zingers while Team Obama said the president will not focus on attacking his opponent. Instead, he plans to speak directly about his plan to move the economy forward.
9:01 My roommate and I are watching at an Obama for America party in Union Square. I've never been around so many people who are drinking beer quietly.
9:04 Aw, Barack gave a shout out to Michelle on their 20th year anniversary.
9:05 Obama's answer to improving the economy concerns alternative energy, education investment, and giving tax breaks to small businesses. He argues Romney will practice "trickle-down" economics.
9:08: Both Barack and Mitt have an epic bromance with small business. Romney says Obama practices "trickle-down" government.
9:12 Mitt says that he will not reduce the tax burden on wealthy Americans. He's worried about the middle-class. He's beginning to sound like Elizabeth Warren. He seems sincere and less stiff than in the Republican debate.
9:13 Mitt likes coal. And he'll also open up the Keystone pipeline. There's a lot of talk about energy but not a word about climate change.
9:16 Obama's response to Romney's challenge about spending cuts and tax relief is wonky.
9:18 The Cambridge crowd agrees with Mitt Romney. His kids are probably liars. His discussion about his tax plan is a bit confusing. He says that his tax plan won't have all of the effects that people say. Obama says that Romney's description of his tax plan defies math. He can't lower the deficit without providing tax relief for middle-income taxpayers under the Romney plan.
9:21 Shit is getting real. Obama says that Romney considers Donald Trump a small businessman...
9:22 Romney keeps referencing ordinary Americans he's talked to. He's deploying the "I have poor friends" strategy.
9:25 Some friends are playing a debate drinking game. Every time the candidate says "middle class" or "small business" they take a drink. I'm not sure they will survive...
9:28 One thing I would not want to be doing on my 20th wedding anniversary: talking about reforming Medicare.
9:33 Romney resolutely rejects revenue.
9:35 Romney says our level of government spending has reached the same level as Spain. The woman next to me says, "Well yeah but we don't take naps every f***ing minute." Boom.
9:38 So many numbers. Math is hard.
9:40 Candidates have similar views on Social Security. Obama says the structure is sound and both candidates might agree on Social Security. He tries to tease out the values behind the programs and challenge the way people view "entitlements." Entitlements do not breed dependency.
9:47 Obama embraces the label "Obamacare."
9: 50 @LizzieWurtzel "This is the opposite of an aphrodisiac. And yet, I think we'd all be better off resuming our sex lives." #debate
9:51 When Mitt Romney talks about regulation, it sounds like he's lecturing on responsible drinking. "Some regulation is appropriate. Excessive regulation is bad."
9:55 "If you think too much oversight was the problem with Wall Street, then maybe Governor Romney is your candidate."
10:00 Romney loves state-initiated health care policy and seniors.
10:01 Obama says that Massachusetts's healthcare plan is identical to the Affordable Care Act. Romney says that the difference is that Massachusetts's plan was bipartisan whereas the ACA was not supported by any Republicans. He also said that ACA raised taxes and the Massachusetts bill did not. I've never heard a debate with so many verbal footnotes.
10:04 The main distinction Obama has drawn between himself and Romney is that he does not want Americans to have to "fend for themselves." I'm picturing a septuagenarian running through a forest looking for an affordable colonoscopy.
10:10 Romney says that the government is not good at bringing down costs and praises the innovation of private enterprise. "The private market and individual responsibility always work best."
10:11 Jim Lehrer hates his life.
10:14 Obama says that the government has the opportunity to create ladders for people to succeed. #lincoln_namedropping
10:16 New drinking game innovation: if a candidate exceeds his time, chug until Jim Lehrer steps in.
10:21 "Budgets matter because budgets reflect choices." -- President Obama
10:23 Finally a strong response from Obama...A brief digression into the intricacies of servicing guaranteed student loans before slamming Romney's suggestions that students borrow money from their parents for college.
10:26 True bipartisanship. As governor, Romney spent as many hours a week with Democrats as I do looking at cute pictures of cats.
UPDATE: 10:30 Romney's closing statement: "I'm concerned about America. I'm concerned about the direction this country has been taking this last four years." #romneyvention