The second presidential debate is taking place Tuesday October 16th and it’s widely thought that President Obama must have a much more aggressive performance to make up for his last dismal debate against Mitt Romney.
Ever since that debate, Obama has lost his lead in many swing states and is nearly tied with Romney nationally. While Biden showed us a hint at the vice presidential debate of what Obama may bring to the table, the town hall format will prove inhibitive to the president’s effort to strongly and aggressively defend his agenda.
The debate is going to be a town hall meeting format. This is a benefit for Romney. Not because he does especially well in town hall meetings but because the general purpose of a town hall meeting debate is more suited to help Romney shore up his shortcomings. Town halls serve to humanize the contenders and have them talk directly with voters and come off as sympathetic. Even after the debate Obama is seen to “care about the needs and problems” of voters by a wide margin over Romney. Romney is the candidate that needs to convince voters he is not an aloof, uber-rich, businessman that doesn’t care about average voters let alone being unable to relate to them. The town hall debate is the perfect situation for Romney to remedy his inhuman image.
The challenge for Obama will be to satisfy the calls for him to get tough with Romney during debates while at the same time not coming off as mean or negative to the actual participants in the town hall. Obama has the chance, when a town hall participant tells their story, to point out that Romney has already given up on them given his “47%” comment. While this seems simple at first, Romney is guaranteed to have anticipated and prepared for this during debate prep. The challenge will be no letting it devolve into a petty bickering back and forth that just makes Obama look less presidential.
The debate, including domestic and foreign policy, should be a boon for Obama. His foreign policy credentials are rather solid, even given Biden’s vice presidential debate slip up. The last thing America wants is another war in the Middle East and Obama could pressure Romney on how he is so confident in not starting one if at every turn he makes a point of saying that war is on the table with Iran. We may even get lucky and see some sort of foreign policy specifics emerge from the Romney camp, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
The debate in all will be a balancing act for Obama, one that is he loses will cost him dearly (both in voters' confidence and poll numbers). The format of the debate lends to pandering to the crowd and broad speeches without much specificity. Fitting foreign and domestic policy and questions from the crowd into an hour and a half doesn’t lend to very many specifics. Overall this debate will be Obama staunching the bleeding from his last debate, while Mitt Romney tries to come off as a normal person for a change.