2012 Tuesday: What, exactly, can Obama do to win tonight?

By now, everyone acknowledges the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney altered the course of this election.

On the day of the debate, Obama led Romney by 3.1 percentage points in the Real Clear Politics average of national opinion polls. Romney took his first lead against Obama six days later and has been no worse than tied for the past week; the two are in a statistical tie at the moment. More important, Romney has closed the gap or taken the lead in the crucial swing states and even put formerly Obama-leaning states Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania back in play. Today, for the first time, Romney even leads Obama in the RCP average of favorable/unfavorable polls: On average, the former Massachusetts governor is seen favorably by almost 50 percent of voters and has a net favorability rating of +5.4 percentage points — both figures are the highest of the entire presidential campaign for him — while Obama is at 51 percent and +5 percentage points. In four of the past six major polls, Romney’s net favorability is higher than Obama’s.

NBC News’ Chuck Todd has gone so far as to declare a “structural shift” in the race in Romney’s direction; it’s no longer Obama’s election to lose. So, what can Obama do in tonight’s town hall-style debate to regain the momentum?

Unfortunately for Obama supporters, I don’t think it’s going to be very easy.

Much of the commentary about the first debate focused on Obama’s listlessness and lack of aggressiveness. And that’s true as far as it goes. But Obama didn’t just lose the debate; Romney won it. After the Obama campaign spent months and tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars portraying Romney as a cold extremist, Romney gave a very different impression to many voters giving him a hard look for the first time. He was personable, confident, energetic and sounded very reasonable. Obama’s poor performance made the turnaround sharper than it might have been, but Romney earned a re-evaluation from voters on his own.

There’s little Obama can do about that. He can try to rattle or bait Romney into saying something that would put off viewers, as Joe Biden clearly tried to do with Paul Ryan in their vice presidential debate last week. But it didn’t work with Ryan, and it’s unlikely to work with Romney, a more seasoned debater who made some of those mistakes early in the primary-debate season but has become more disciplined since then. The town-hall format, in which — strangely — the rivals are not supposed to engage one another directly, will also make that task more difficult.

That format also inherently makes it harder for Obama to show the aggressiveness he didn’t display in the first debate. The point is for the candidates to engage the audience, and it takes some fine maneuvering to do that while also going after one’s opponent. Not to mention that everyone is expecting more aggressiveness from Obama in this debate precisely because it was so obviously lacking last time. Remember what I wrote last week about expectations? Well, that same principle means it’s going to be hard for Obama to meet those expectations of aggressiveness with everyone watching for it, and without going overboard a la the laughing, smirking, interrupting Biden last week.

Obama can try to go after Romney’s credibility. But Romney parried those attacks well last time and, in last week’s VP debate, got a preview of the policy areas in which the Obama team thinks Romney is vulnerable on the facts; he ought to be ready for those. If there’s a secret line of attack the Obama campaign has been sitting on, tonight is the night to bring it out.

What’s more, the past 24 hours have given Romney new ways to dent Obama’s own credibility: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s shouldering of the blame Monday for the lethally inadequate security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last month is a far cry from Obama’s 2008 statement — standing next to Clinton, no less — that he would be responsible for security matters. (Not to mention Clinton didn’t take responsibility for Obama’s inaccurate statements about why the attack happened.) There’s also the fresh bankruptcy of a manufacturer of batteries for electric cars that received a federal grant of almost $250 million in 2009 — another example of Obama’s “picking the losers,” as Romney put it in the last debate, rather than creating the 5 million green jobs he promised during, ahem, the 2008 town hall debate.

What we have, then, is a situation in which the Obama campaign tried to win the election by making it a contest of two personalities — and now faces a situation where its portrayal of Romney has been blown, and time is running out to persuade voters that caricature was correct after all.

(Note: I’ll once again be live-blogging the debate tonight, so look for a fresh post later today where you can follow the face-off with me and other readers.)

– By Kyle Wingfield

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238 comments Add your comment

Dearie

October 16th, 2012
11:22 am

Good column.

catlady

October 16th, 2012
11:30 am

Obama needs to treat Romney with the gravitas one would a delusional idiot. Expose the lies, go after “specifics” and the specifics on the specifics, and be prepared to say, “Oh, come now, Governor! Speak the truth for a change.” and “So this is your platform today? How about yesterday, last week, etc.?”

nelson

October 16th, 2012
11:45 am

The fact that Hillary is now taking the responsiblity for the lack of security is a surprise. Prez O said he was responsible for security. What is unfolding at the present is an administration in total chaos. They want to say all the words the populace wants to hear and now that they have already said them and they were wrong they are trying to reinvent themselves again. This is what happens when a party has no principles and has to have a poll tell them what they stand for.
“Oh what a web we weave when first we practise to deceive” That is the first amendment for the administration, deceive the people with a lot of[malarkey]. You remember ole {malarkey Joe}.

Rafe Hollister, suffering through Oblamer's ineptocracy

October 16th, 2012
11:50 am

How can Obama win the debate, tell us his plans and strategies for the next four years. He has none, so that doesn’t work.
He can aggressively defend his record. Well, he will not because his record is one of failure.
He can paint Romney as one who is out of touch. Not really, because Obama is one of the most out of touch President’s we have ever had. One of his former advisers now admit that he shouldn’t be President as he basically “does not like people”. When you are aloof, arrogant, and do not take criticism well it is hard to paint someone else as out of touch.
He can say Romney is lying. When you have a history of telling some big whoppers yourself, it is hard to make that argument.
He can say Romney wants to take your benefits. With the country 16T dollars in debt and facing a fiscal cliff, most voters know their benefits may be taken by whomever wins the race.

The only way he can will the debate is with the help of the Media. They can continue to cover for his missteps, lies, and distortions and declare him the winner, which they will. It will then be up to the public to decide if they believe the media or their lying eyes and ears.

MarkV

October 16th, 2012
11:55 am

Kyle’s article is fundamentally again based on a falsity – and yes, Dusty, I will not hesitate to call things what they are.) When Kyle writes that “Obama campaign spent months and tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars portraying Romney as a cold extremist,” he tries to cover up the fact that Romney showed himself in the primaries as a cold extremist, and now he tries to erase that by denying everything he said before. Yes, Romney “gave a very different impression,” to many voters giving him a hard look for the first time, but it was an impression, not necessarily a reality. One of the most effective things Obama can do in the debate is to remind people of what Romney said before and how he is trying to deny it now. Even if the “new Romney” could be the “real Romney,” the fact remains that nobody now can believe it, and nobody knows what he would do if elected President.

stands for decibels

October 16th, 2012
11:57 am

He has to treat Mitt with about half the disgust Biden displayed last week, and keep his “ums” and “aaands” to an acceptable level. If he does that, he stands his ground, and a tie is good enough to win when you’ve already got a lead.

I know this sounds horribly cynical but, well, we are basically talking about a glorified American Idol television special, here.

MarkV

October 16th, 2012
12:03 pm

The issue of Benghazi is just a desperate attempt by Romney to erase the memory of his foreign policy blunders and inability to formulate any new policy. To accuse the President of something that is handled way below the White House is preposterous, it is like blaming the CEO of a car company for a defect on one of the cars his company makes. Yes, the head of an organization “is responsible,” for everything, but any reasonable person understands what that means. And to elevate the changes in the statement about what caused the attack to a matter of foreign policy importance is just preposterous.

getalife

October 16th, 2012
12:03 pm

Joe Biden destroyed their lies, laughed in their face and set the stage for our President to finish them off.

Economic numbers are up and unemployment numbers are down.

Our President will win.

Centrist

October 16th, 2012
12:04 pm

Crawley will not be highlighting how Obama is now hiding behind Hillary’s skirt over the Libya embassy attack. The media will emphasize Obama’s point that budget and tax changes are not specific (Congress does most of that with Presidential goading). The false studies saying the math does not add up even when the specifics of the math are not yet proffered will be repeated ad naseum. Romney will have to do his own lifting pointing out the favored, crony capitalist green subsidies – not coming from Crowley’s chosen questions. Obama will have been coached to lapse into his memorized stump rhetoric he usually reads from a teleprompter to avoid all of those halting, repetitive lines, littered with “umms”.

Obama will likely be heralded as improved, and tie goes to the incumbent by the MSM – but people watching instead of reading/ listening to media spin will see a very competent Romney.

Why is it we only get moderate or liberal Democrats to moderate these debates – just because there are so many compared to Fox and the WSJ?

getalife

October 16th, 2012
12:06 pm

Our President will get the terrorists in Libya.

Bet on it.

getalife

October 16th, 2012
12:16 pm

I would not be surprised if our President launches a DoJ and FBI investigation for outing the CIA building.

He looks more relaxed and confident so something is coming.

Gimme Gimme Gimme

October 16th, 2012
12:18 pm

Obama could trip onstage and be unconscious for 90 minutes and getalife would say he won the debate. I highly recommend you follow his comments during the debate. They are unintentionally hilarious.

carlosgvv

October 16th, 2012
12:24 pm

“What ,exactly, can Obama do to win tonight”

Why, Sir, he can do as Romney does. He can take the demanor of a top used car salesman, project his best deep speaking voice, look straight into the camera and tell as many lies as necessary to win over all his gullible supporters. One problem, though. He doesn’t have nearly as many simple followers as Romney.

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
12:29 pm

After the Obama campaign spent months and tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars portraying Romney as a cold extremist, Romney gave a very different impression to many voters giving him a hard look for the first time. He was personable, confident, energetic and sounded very reasonable. Obama’s poor performance made the turnaround sharper than it might have been, but Romney earned a re-evaluation from voters on his own.

Though the Libs have spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on Romney’s imagined personality flaws, Obama’s personality hasn’t been the number one concern over on the Con side of the aisle. Neither has Obama’s race, although Libs also like to imagine that it is a critical factor as well. On the Con side, it’s been primarily about policy from the gitgo. Big government solutions with the required free spending vs. limited government and living within our means. I’m voting for living within our means.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right

October 16th, 2012
12:31 pm

Pretty much nailed it, Kyle. He has a delicate balancing act to attempt. In addition, he also has to make sure he actually tries to answer the voter’s question before launching into any anti- Romney tirade.

Georgia

October 16th, 2012
12:31 pm

In early voting, exit polling has revealed that not one person has said that they voted for Obama. Not one.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 16th, 2012
12:33 pm

Romney gave a very different impression to many voters giving him a hard look for the first time.

And which Romney will we get tonight? The centrist Romney or the severe conservative Romney?

bluecoat

October 16th, 2012
12:35 pm

Obama should be natural self,show respect to his elder but not cower down to him,as before.AND watch Romney at all times.
http://www.dailydot.com/politics/mitt-romney-debate-cheating-video/

BADA BING

October 16th, 2012
12:35 pm

Hillary blames Embassy confusion on the ‘Fog of War’. Well, it wasn’t so much a fog, as a hail of bullets. The Fog continues on this administration.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right

October 16th, 2012
12:38 pm

Oh, and MarkV? The Romney portrayed by the media and by Obama is and always was a fictional character. He’s always been this personable and moderate but you’ve been too blind to see it.

willie lynch

October 16th, 2012
12:39 pm

He should just be quiet. Romney will surely argue against his own previous statements.

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
12:39 pm

He has a delicate balancing act to attempt. In addition, he also has to make sure he actually tries to answer the voter’s question before launching into any anti- Romney tirade.

Ti–I’m guessing that the quality of tonight’s debate will primarily depend upon the quality of the questions asked. If the Libs are successful in packing the town hall with their plants and the moderator throws out any pretense of being objective, then Obama might have a chance. If Obama is called out on the carpet for the obvious lack of success he’s had the past 4 years, it could be a long night for him.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 16th, 2012
12:40 pm

Blame Obama for four deaths in Libya. But don’t blame Bush for nearly 3,000 deaths in New York.

… Cheney invoked every excuse he and his allies now deride in the Libya fiasco. The warnings weren’t specific enough. Broad analyses of persistent dangers aren’t actionable. Warnings from our people on the ground didn’t “trickle up to the presidential level.” Connecting the dots isn’t the president’s job. It’s a failure of the “system.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2012/10/blame_obama_for_the_libya_consulate_attack_but_don_t_blame_bush_for_9_11.html

Lambeau

October 16th, 2012
12:41 pm

MarkV at 12:03………. Thats not the point. It would be like blaming the CEO for LYING about the defect so he wont look bad to the shareholders. Then when everyone discovers he lied, someone beneath him takes the fall to make it appear as though he didnt know he was lying.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 16th, 2012
12:41 pm

If the Libs are successful in packing the town hall with their plants and the moderator throws out any pretense of being objective

And the Cons start making excuses early!

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
12:45 pm

And which Romney will we get tonight? The centrist Romney or the severe conservative Romney?

Finn–Since Romney has an actual executive record as Governor of Massachusetts for 4 years, maybe you can point to some of the “severely conservative” legislation that he pushed through or some of the “severely conservative” enforcement measures he utilized during that time.

Form all accounts, Romney was a moderate Governor who fostered an air of bipartisanship in an overwhelmingly liberal state. In contrast, Obama took a my-way-or-the-highway approach from Day 1, with the predictable resultant gridlock since.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 16th, 2012
12:46 pm

Obama just needs to take the gloves off and make Romney look like the arse that he is – a bully, out of touch, his contempt of 47% of Americans, his hankering to deliver his Wall Street buddies with massive tax breaks.

Tom(Independent Viet Vet-USAF)

October 16th, 2012
12:46 pm

Does Obama get to use his teleprompter tonite? If not, it will be interesting.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 16th, 2012
12:47 pm

Bruno, I’m not talking about Romney’s record as governor, I’m talking about he speaks about himself. “Severely conservative” is how Romney described himself.

bluecoat

October 16th, 2012
12:47 pm

Hiding behind Hillary’s skirt.Mr. Romney hiding forbidden notes for reference at the debate?Some say more tapes to be revealed.If he hides notes,tax returns,and money,Not much presidential material here.

Thomas Heyward Jr

October 16th, 2012
12:48 pm

2012 Tuesday: What, exactly, can Obama do to win tonight?
.
Who cares?
Romney…Obama…..both big government individual liberty-hating statists.
.
As far as Liberty -LOVERS.
.
A heart-felt SALUTE to CLARK HOWARD.
He stated that he voted for Gary Johnson yesterday.
.
Yes……………….there are still real men left…………..amongst a sea of sniveling frightened metro/federo- sexual Romney/Obama supporters.

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
12:48 pm

And the Cons start making excuses early!

Selectively edit much, Finn??

The full sentence read: ” If the Libs are successful in packing the town hall with their plants and the moderator throws out any pretense of being objective, then Obama might have a chance.”

How does “Obama might have a chance” = “Making excuses”?? And, given the extreme liberal orientation of most of the mainstream media, an expectation of slanted questioning isn’t unreasonable. The paucity of any criticism of Obama by the media for the past 4 years is pretty good evidence of that.

Tom(Independent Viet Vet-USAF)

October 16th, 2012
12:49 pm

Finn – I do not care how much the rich guys make, if they start creating more jobs for people. You have wealth envy, go make your OWN money and quit expecting more high-achievers in life to support you. On one side you have the Democrats and on the other side you have AMERICANS!!!!!

Lambeau

October 16th, 2012
12:49 pm

All the libs who keep grasping at straws regarding this “47%” comment need to wake up and be objective. Here would be a great response Romney should use tonight.

http://m.boortz.com/weblogs/nealz-nuze/2012/oct/16/tonights-debate/

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
12:51 pm

Bruno, I’m not talking about Romney’s record as governor, I’m talking about he speaks about himself. “Severely conservative” is how Romney described himself.

Which only makes you a typical Lib. Form over Substance all the way. Which is how the vastly inexperienced Obama got elected in the first place. Good job, Libs.

JKL2

October 16th, 2012
12:54 pm

markv- The issue of Benghazi is just a desperate attempt by Romney to erase the memory of his foreign policy blunders and inability to formulate any new policy.

Romney’s foreign policy blunders? Was he president before, or does the governor of Massachusetts normal set foreign policy for the country?

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
12:55 pm

a bully, out of touch, his contempt of 47% of Americans

Again, a bunch of imaginary personality flaws which are in total contrast to his actual record as a successful executive of an investment capital firm, an Olympic event, and as 4 years as Gov of a very liberal state.

Let me know if you can come up with any Substance, Finn. All you have is a bunch of meaningless tripe thus far.

JamVet

October 16th, 2012
12:55 pm

By now, everyone acknowledges the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney altered the course of this election.

Everyone?

Altered?

Puhleeze, Kyle.

I know that your mission is rally the troops, but really…

Willard kicks a 29 yard field goal to cut Barry’s lead to 31 – 13, late in the fourth quarter.

LOL.

JamVet predicts BHO has an 79% chance of winning and the final EC tally, BHO – 311, WMR – 227.

(Suck on it, tibby.)

Better luck in 2016.

And pray that Hillary doesn’t run and become the first woman prez, or it will be better luck in 2020.

Or 2024…

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
12:56 pm

Out for lunch. I’ll check back later to see if any Libs here come up with any thing of value beyond their meaningless, imaginary personality assessments of Romney.

JKL2

October 16th, 2012
12:58 pm

getalife- Our President will get the terrorists in Libya.

Do you mean the peaceful demonstrators?

They must have bussed in some Catholics to do this. We all know muslims would never hurt anyone…

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
12:58 pm

JamVet predicts BHO has an 79% chance of winning and the final EC tally, BHO – 311, WMR – 227.

Let’s just hope you’re saving up for a killer concert in case you’re wrong. If Obama wins, it will be by the slightest of margins. It all comes down to how many dead people the Dems can find to cast votes.

JKL2

October 16th, 2012
1:00 pm

jamvet- And pray that Hillary doesn’t run and become the first woman prez, or it will be better luck in 2020.

The think obama has destroyed any chance of that happening.

Burn any good books lately?

@@

October 16th, 2012
1:00 pm

Timing and sequence (townhall) is working against Obama. Next up? Foreign policy. OUCH!!!!

Could be he blew his one and only chance with the first debate. Biden’s “uncontrollable” laughter during a serious debate about serious issues may have blown it with women voters.

Anyhoo…

if I had to describe Obama’s presidency in two short sentences?

Too much too soon.

Too little too late.

I don’t see how the guy can survive under any circumstances.

Bruno

October 16th, 2012
1:01 pm

In the meantime, Jam, enjoy this deep cut from Pink Floyd, “Country Song”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqvTIZGRxDg

Centrist

October 16th, 2012
1:02 pm

@ Finn – All during the GOP primaries Romney was painted as too moderate by contenders attacking on the right. Didn’t stick – he easily won the nomination. Now the Obama campaign and partisan posters claim he is more conservative than W. Not sticking either, even though they simultaneously attempt to claim he has an “etch-a-sketch” campaign style for the general election. He has not changed his moderate philosophy, and the desperate fabricated attacks have become transparent.

If Obama squeaks out a win with less electoral and popular votes as an incumbent compared to the previous open election (first time ever to happen), he will be the fastest lame duck President in history. He might as well match Congress in not submitting a budget – they were all ignored when he had some political capital, and it is mostly gone with at least a Republican House. Thankfully, Obama is insignificant – Romney may have a shot at fixing this mess the incumbent has made.

Georgia

October 16th, 2012
1:03 pm

We could use Cheney in the corner tonight for the BaRocky 2 rematch. We’ll need his chants of “flipflop”….his wonderful scowl…. his language….and doggone it, his charm. But no, Romney will be on his own. If he can avoid the trap about trying to explain the 47% remark, (he’s already apologized), and accentuate the advantages of his vision for the usa, then he can win.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 16th, 2012
1:04 pm

Yeah, I guess that kid getting held down and having his hair cut is just imaginary?

And Romney didn’t say anything about that 47% did he? Just imaginary. It didn’t come out of Romney’s mouth.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 16th, 2012
1:05 pm

If he can avoid the trap about trying to explain the 47% remark, (he’s already apologized),

There’s your apologetic campaigner. Maybe he shouldn’t have said it in the first place? But he WAS only speaking the truth – in his mind.

JKL2

October 16th, 2012
1:07 pm

Finn- Blame Obama for four deaths in Libya. But don’t blame Bush for nearly 3,000 deaths in New York.

Is that why Bush tried to cover up the whole incident?

oops…

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 16th, 2012
1:07 pm

Sorry Centrist but the Senate isn’t even close to flipping so Romney won’t be getting much of a chance to fix what Republicans screwed up in the first place by implementing more of the failed Bush policies.