Pre-Debate: What To Look For Tonight
1) On Tuesday, Romney had perhaps his best day of polling to date. The Gallup tracking poll showed Romney leading President Obama 50-46% nationwide, including 50-47% in swing states. A national poll conducted by the liberal Daily Kos showed an identical 50-46 lead, while Rasmussen Reports saw Romney with a 49-47% lead. Clearly another knockout punch would be what Romney is something Romney would like in order to cement his lead, but even a tie doesn't hurt. Romney changed how people saw him in the first debate, and what is key is he doesn't say something that gives them a reason to change their mind.
2) Is the Obama camp in panic mode? After the first debate, the Obama campaign dropped every possible excuse as to why Obama did so poorly (Al Gore suggested the "altitude" was a problem). But Obama's big problem tonight is expectations. After dropping every excuse for his loss in the first debate, the campaign (and media) have spent the last 2 weeks setting the stage for the "real Obama." Of course, what if Debate #1 Obama is the real Obama? Obama is no Bill Clinton. He has spent 4 years either speaking from a teleprompter or hanging out on friendly chat shows. He hasn't been challenged until now.
3) Does a town-hall debate favor Romney or Obama? If you listen to the media, the town-hall debate is better suited to Obama. In the eyes of the MSM, Romney is still out-of-touch and hard to relate with. But I disagree. Romney spent years in his church working with people, helping people, and not using them as a stepping stone. Yes, Obama was a "community organizer" but every action suggests it was more of a stepping stone in his political careers than a true passion. If the expectations are that Romney can't relate, but Obama can, then voters may be in for another shocker tonight.
4) Be Aggressive? In the first debate, Romney's performance was brilliant on many levels. At one point while answering a question about Medicare, he answered it and then proceeded to rebut and dismiss what he knew was going to be Obama's response. It was a brilliant move that left Obama nodding his head in agreement and being unable to make that point himself. The Obama campaign hinted that Romney was "too nice" in the first debate. That suggests that Obama is going to be "not nice" this debate. It remains to be seen whether or town hall format is a good place to be overly aggressive. Obama is in a tough spot: He is at risk of either repeating his performance from the first debate, or going totally off the deep-end like Joe Biden. (And also, no way Romney would let him get way with cutting him off repeatedly, which was Ryan's one mistake.)
5) A Moderator controversy? Unlike others, I'm not too concerned about the level of involvement Candy Crowley plans to make. Yes, the questions are going to be coming from people in the crowd, but honestly they are the same questions everyone wants asked anyway (supposedly). Jim Lehrer did a good job in the first debate and let the two candidates do most of the talking. In the VP debate, Martha Raddatz had no control over the debate, allowed one participant to continuously interrupt, and interrupted Paul Ryan herself repeatedly. If Crowley wants to ask aggressive follow-ups because the candidate has dodged, that is not a problem. But hopefully talking points won't become part of the questioning or the follow-ups.