(Providence, Rhode Island) – It’s back on the campaign trail this week as I head to Hofstra University on Long Island in New York for the second presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Romney. This on the heels of the vice presidential debate. There is so much going on. Here are this week’s observations:
Tie Goes to the Challenger – Who won this week’s vice presidential debate? I call it a tie on substance, but a slight edge to Paul Ryan on style. Each man had an objective. Biden had to go on the attack and get the Obama ticket back in the game. He succeeded. Paul Ryan had to show he had the knowledge, competence and demeanor to be president, if something happened to his boss. He succeeded. So the debate was a tie. But, Joe Biden’s unusual smiling, laughter, eye rolling and other odd behavior gives a slight overall edge to Ryan. In high school debate class they teach you that part of the score is on substance; and part of the score is on style. The same goes in the high-stakes presidential campaign! It’s Debate 101.
Does It Matter? – In the end, probably not. Look, people vote the top of the ticket, so this race is really between Obama and Romney. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Well, it’s a tough choice, but I’ve got to vote for Bob, because he has the better running mate?” It just doesn’t happen to any significant degree. A CNN post-debate poll of undecided voters said 28 percent were going to vote Republican based on Ryan’s performance, and 21 percent were going to vote Democratic based on Biden’s debate performance. Again, it’s an insignificant toss-up!
That’s Entertainment! – For the past three decades the vice presidential debate has been more entertaining political theater than it has been a deal breaker. Just ask Dan Quayle, Admiral Stockdale, and Sarah Palin. This one had its moments, too. Biden’s best lines were about Ryan applying for federal stimulus funds for firms in Wisconsin, even though Ryan opposed the Obama stimulus program. Ryan’s best moments were when he talked about Romney’s misspeaks, and nailed Biden for the many times he has had verbal miscues over the years. Again, cute and amusing moments from both sides, but not something that will decide the election by any stretch.
The Biggest Loser – Poor Big Bird, no one mentioned him in the VP debate. His 15 minutes of fame faded fast. I will miss him in this year’s remaining political discourse.
Curtain Call – Big Bird’s last official act was to appear in an Obama ad which mentioned Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and other Wall Street pirates, and suggested Mitt Romney was more interested in policing Sesame Street than Wall Street. It was cute, but the people who produce Sesame Street quickly asked that it be withdrawn. With a four dead Americans in Libya headlining the news, the cartoonish ad was in danger of trivializing a serious election and could have posed a major embarrassment to the White House. The ad vaporized.
Debate, Round 2 – Tuesday night should be interesting, with the “Town Hall” debate format. If I was coaching Mitt Romney, I would say he needs to hit hard on the Libya issue. This – and not the economy – in now the White House’s Achilles heal. People want answers; not a story line that changes daily. If I was I was coaching President Obama, I would say hit hard on the “47% speech” from Mitt Romney, especially since he’ll be talking to regular folks in the Town Hall format. President Obama made a major tactical error in the first debate by not hitting on Romney’s biggest weakness – that speech about not appealing to, or being interested in, those 47 percent of disaffected voters. It ought to be a great debate!
Who’s On First? – Well, for the first time in weeks, Mitt Romney is ahead in the national polls. In the latest Real Clear Politics composite poll, he has a lead of 1.3 percent. Last Thursday – before the debate – President Obama was ahead by 0.5 percent. It’s just that close. In the nine battleground states, Romney is only ahead in three; North Carolina, Colorado and Florida, although he is now tied in a couple of others. If the election was today, Romney would win the popular vote, but Obama would win the Electoral College. Can you say 2000, here we go again?
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