Everyone knows that Mitt Romney is stiff and awkward, which is why everyone also knows that he’ll do poorly at tonight’s town hall debate. Of the two candidates, Barack Obama is supposed to be the one who is friendly and personable with ordinary people. Even with his poor performance two weeks ago, the assumption is that Obama will benefit from the change in format. But will he?
The fact is that there are serious pitfalls for the president tonight. The first, of course, is that if he doesn’t do well, he'll give Romney a chance to solidify his gains with another solid win. There’s also the chance that he overcompensates for his initial loss, and is too aggressive against the Republican nominee. In which case, he comes across as unpresidential—and a little bit desperate.
Romney, on the other hand, doesn’t need to do much to come out ahead. He's already proven that he can go head-to-head with Obama; tonight's task is to show that he can “connect” with voters in a way that’s escaped him for most of the year. Judging from the last debate, I think he’s perfectly capable of achieving that. Even if he loses on substance, this debate will not be a loss if he can convince undecided voters that he’s more reasonable than the "severe conservative" image he's projected through most of the campaign.
But there is one great potential pitfall for Romney—the 47 percent remarks. If Obama chooses to focus on Romney’s infamous declaration that 47 percent of the country will not “take responsibility” for itself—or if one of the questioners brings it up—the former Massachusetts governor will be forced to offer an answer. And given the circumstances of that video, filmed at a closed-door fundraiser, Romney will have a devilish time convincing voters that he didn’t really mean it. —Jamelle Bouie
So They Say
"I feel fabulous. Look at this beautiful day."
—Barack Obama, responding to a question on how he was feeling about tonight's debate
Daily Meme: The Beltway Hall Debate
- In tonight's presidential debate, voters get to pose all the questions, but that hasn't stopped pundits, reporters, and assorted others from positing the questions they'd like to hear.
- NPR: "Every president since Jimmy Carter has been talking about making us energy independent. Is it just beyond the power of a president to do anything about gasoline prices, or do you have a plan that is different from all of those past presidents?"
- Pizza Hut: "Sausage or pepperoni?"
- Heritage: "How would you cut spending and reduce the debt burden for Americans?"
- LA Times: "Can you defend government bailouts of private companies, particularly the auto industry?"
- Huffington Post: "In your view, what is the greatest threat to freedom in the world today?"
- The Root: "Do you think that America is, for the most part, an equal playing field?"
- Bryce Covert: "What will you do to close a wage gap that costs the average woman $431,000 over her career?"
- Young people: "What are the chances I'll have a good job waiting for me when I graduate?"
- NBC News readers: “To both candidates, what is the average price for a gallon of milk today?”
- Stefan Becket: "Any advice for Andrew Sullivan?"
What We're Writing
- Robert Kuttner worked up a cheat sheet to make sure Obama doesn't flounder in tonight's debate.
- Rich Yeselson remembers Arlen Specter, who was, above all else, always a politician.
What We're Reading
- Hillary Clinton took the blame for the Benghazi attacks today, and Jennifer Rubinresponded with some snide sexist remarks. Hillz could have the last laugh in 2016 though, as John Heilemann's new piece on the Clinton dynasty hints.
- Beefing up a campaign's web presence is essential nowadays, but the Obama team still prides itself on having campaign offices with Starbucks-esque ubiquity.
- The New York Review of Books collected an all-star team of contributors for its election issue; here's all the essays in one place.
- Mark Leibovich writes that Paul Ryan has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from being on the Republican presidential ticket.
- McSweeney's skewers the evasion tactics of presidential debaters.
- Alec MacGillis has five lessons that Obama should learn from Biden's lively debate performance last week.
- Margaret Talbot discusses what women voters want to hear from the two candidates.
- Stephanie Mencimer asks: Could Bush v. Gore give Ohio to Obama?
Poll of the Day
Surprising no one, a new survey from NPR shows that Romney is sweeping the rural vote in swing states. The nine battlegrounds—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin—have a collective rural population of 13.6 million, and 59 percent of rural voters are in the Romney camp. Obama's share of the rural vote in these states has dropped 10 percent below his 2008 total to 37 percent.
For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.