A Preview of Romney Obama Rehearsed Presidential Debate Strategies
Just case you can’t watch the debate on Wednesday, the New York Times has a peek at what they’re rehearsing so you’ll know more of less how each side presented itself. And if your’e watching, you can observe how they are debuting the acts they’ve been rehearsing for weeks and weeks with stand-in opponents and debate coaches:
Mr. Obama’s team records his practices to sharpen his responses so that they connect on a more visceral level with the television audience. One of Mr. Romney’s aides calculated his words-per-minute rate in the primary campaign debates to break him of the habit of feeling that he needs to rattle off the most statistics.
Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August. His strategy includes luring the president into appearing smug or evasive about his responsibility for the economy.
Mr. Obama is not particularly fluid in sound bites, so his team is aiming for a workmanlike performance like his speech at the Democratic convention. He is looking to show that Mr. Romney would drive the country in an extreme ideological direction at odds with the interests of the middle class.
For both men, it is a chance to reintroduce themselves to the largest audience in the campaign to date.
And there you have it. I’ve told many people that somewhere in there on debate night Mitt Romney will do a variation on Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again.” Or on Sarah Palin’s riff on the slogan Hope and Change.
It’s now all about sound bites — far less about the serious content that dominated the JFK-Nixon debate in 1960, a sign again how the physical performance and personality increasingly trump the higher premium being on the policy content of an issue. But in our live blogging, clearly, we will have to note how each exchange comes across.
From Al Gore’s loud sighing to Jimmy Carter saying he consulted his 12-year-old daughter on nuclear proliferation, presidential debates are full of memorable moments. But despite the fanfare that surrounds each election cycle’s televised events, historical data shows the debates are rarely game changers.
“There are a handful of cases in which a debate had a notable effect on the polls,” political scientist John Sides says. “But most debates don’t produce that kind of shift.”
llup study found that between 1960 and 2004, there were only two years where debates made a difference in actual votes. Instead, the most common outcome of the presidential debates is a slight popularity bump. But that bump doesn’t necessarily translate into votes.
“They sometimes have a short-term effect, a bounce in response to the debates, but at the end of the day there often is not much of an effect,” says Robert Erikson, author of The Timeline of Presidential Elections.
Data from the Gallup study also saw no direct correlation between the winner of each debate and the winner of the presidency. The 2004 Kerry vs. Bush debate was cited as an example. Kerry was considered the victor of all three showdowns, but still lost the election.
There are numerous factors responsible for the disparity between who “wins” the debates and who wins the election. Political scientists say one of the biggest reasons is that those who are watching the debates already have their minds made up.
“By [debate] time voters have pretty much picked their candidates,” says Erikson. “Some are undecided, but they are probably not paying attention…People who are political and have a party affiliation are hard to dislodge by the debates. And those rooting for their favorite candidate, even if he is doing poorly, aren’t necessarily going to change their mind.”
Even if a large number of open-minded, undecided voters watch the debates, history shows that the events are typically lackluster and therefore unlikely to influence a person’s interpretation of a candidate.
“Usually the candidates fight to a draw. They are well prepared and the format of the debates gives them equal time,” Sides says. “So it’s hard in that context to have a stunning victory or a terrible defeat.”
Most likely with this debate:
1. Romney has to deliver content, come across as sincere, say something memorable and zing it to Barack Obama so there can be a widespread media CONSENSUS that he has won. If not, it’s a wash for him and he won’t advance. He also has to make an affirmative case about what he’d do to improve the economy and defend his many position changes over the years.
2. Obama has to not just hold his own but build on the narrative Democrats have woven about Mitt Romney, and detail Romney’s many political incarnations and position shifts. Obama has to be Presidential and come across as a cut above Romney, not totally on the same level. Even before the Times piece, it was clear Romney would be well equipped and read to use some zingers — well-written, rehearsed down to the tilt of his head. Is Obama ready to reply to zingers with counter zingers?
3. The question is how well each side prepared to counter the attacks (and, yes, zingers) of the other side and make it look spontaneous and not canned.
PREDICTION: I’ve often noted that an informal press narrative on political stories is Mr. Y rises, Mr. Y wins a nomination, Mr. Y starts to decline, Mr. Y is on the skids – and then there’s Mr. Y making a comeback.
Romney wants it to end in a CONSENSUS media narrative (which again means it can’t just be Fox, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) saying he did really well — and then you’ll start seeing stories suggesting he’s on the way up, the race may be tightening, he’s on a comeback, why this is like Truman in 1948….etc.
The hardest task that night? Romney. At this point he has to score on policy, affirmative solutions (not just attack lines), and reassure many Americans who think the Romney on the 47% tape is the real Romney. His big problem: can a simple assertion wipe out the lingering image and words of that tape?
And if Obama makes a glaring factual error, or indeed gets irritated, he’ll be boosting Romney’s polls.
Underlying issue is not just swing voters. But which candidate can reassures the middle class.