Experts say the public should expect a more aggressive President Barack Obama in tonight’s presidential debate, as he works to recover from a widely panned performance in the first one and tries to reverse the gains made by Mitt Romney.
“He has to give a good performance tomorrow,” said political consultant Maurice Floyd. “There was just a big disappointment in his [first] performance.”
That Obama performed miserably in the first debate is one of the few things not up for debate – the president himself apologized to supporters after the Oct. 3 event.
“I think it’s fair to say I was just too polite,” he told radio host Tom Joyner last week, adding that he would not make the same mistake in the next debate. “We’re going to take it to him.”
How well Romney was served by his win remains less certain. He did see a slight increase in his poll numbers in the days following the debate, but as the second one approaches, that bounce appears to be receding.
Both men have two remaining chances to deliver their messages through debates before voters head to the polls on Nov. 6. The first is at 9 tonight. That will be followed by the final debate at 9 p.m. Oct. 22.
Each of the three politicos who spoke to the Tribune used the word aggressive to describe how Obama has to appear. But,he has to do it in a balanced way, all three agreed.
“Romney’s strategy was very calculated in the first debate, but in the second debate he’s going to have to be prepared for a more aggressive Obama,” said Vincent Thompson, owner of Thompson Mediaman Communications.
Inevitably, this meeting will be compared not just to the first presidential debate, but also to last week’s vice presidential debate in which Vice President Joe Biden flayed Paul Ryan in a way that cheered Democrats but evoked ridicule from many Republicans.
Obama has to be similarly aggressive, but must also be careful not to evoke comparisons to the “angry Black man” and possibly alienate wavering independents.
“That was part of the problem that he had in his last performance,” said Floyd. “He has to show that he is strong, but he has to be more presidential.”
During tonight’s debate and the next, both men will have to focus on wooing independents.
With the heavily partisan atmosphere of this election season, most voters – polls suggest – have already made up their minds. Most estimates indicate that roughly 7 to 9 percent of voters remain undecided.
“The central focus of this debate isn’t his base,” said Seitu Stephens, adjunct professor of political science at Cheyney University. “He has to convince independent voters that came out for him in 2008 that he’s still the correct pick for them.”
The format for this week’s event differs from the first one in that it is a town hall-style debate, meaning that the questions will come directly from the audience. That will change the candidates’ approach and interest as well.
“The questions are from actual voters so you’ll see the American public will be more focused on it than on the last presidential and the vice presidential debate,” Stephens said.
That may help Obama, who typically polls higher in likeability than Romney, added Thompson.
For undecideds, the final debate, coming so close to Election Day, will likely have the most influence, Stephens said.
“The third debate has more influence on independent voters and on who best riles up their constituencies,” he said.
Floyd and Thompson pointed out that for many voters who have already made up their minds, it will be political entertainment.
Thompson noted that in 32 states voters are already voting – Ohio and Florida, two crucial swing states, among them. That changes the dynamic on Election Day, as many votes will have already been cast, and highlights the importance of voter turnout.
Thompson had a few words of advice for the Obama campaign in terms of local turnout.
“My recommendation is to pay the street money,” he said. “They need to make sure that the party operations are galvanized and organized.”
It is something the Obama campaign declined to do in 2008. Failure to do so again – in the face of increased voter apathy – could change the results on Nov. 6, Thompson said.
“If you lose because he didn’t want to spend money … what’s the point?” he said.