Obama and Romney prepare for TV showdown
But Romney will have to be careful that his criticism of Obama doesn’t backfire. He lost ground in the polls by accusing the administration of “sympathising” with extremists in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack.
Romney desperately needs to regain support among women and working-class white voters to compensate for Obama’s overwhelming lead with ethnic minorities and the young.
Romney will try to convince Americans that Obama is responsible for the country’s economic problems, without appearing to launch a vicious attack on a leader who remains popular. The sort of aggressive tactics that worked against Newt Gingrich in Florida last winter could look inappropriate against a sitting president.
Obama’s advisers are attempting to curb his penchant for long-winded, professorial explanations and to instil a few crispy sound bites. Obama will portray Romney and the Republican party as extreme and caring only about the wealthy.
He may raise Romney’s refusal to release more than two years’ income tax returns, and his past investments in China.
The incumbent is likely to mention Romney’s disastrous “47 per cent video”, in which he said nearly half of Americans would never vote for Republicans because they “feel entitled” to government assistance.
Both campaigns have attempted to lower expectations.
Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, said Romney won 19 of 23 Republican primary debates.
“Mr Romney, he’s a good debater,” the president told a crowd in Nevada on Sunday night. “I’m just okay. I know folks in the media are speculating already on who’s going to have the best zingers.”
Tomorrow will mark the 28th televised presidential debate since John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in 1960. Only twice have debates been credited with turning the tide of an election: when Kennedy appeared cool and relaxed beside Nixon, who was tired, ill-shaven and refused make-up; and again in 2000, when Al Gore appeared haughty to the down-home, friendly George W Bush.
The Obama-Romney match is being compared to the first Clinton-Dole debate in 1996, by which time many Republicans had already given up on Bob Dole.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published yesterday showed Obama winning the swing states that will determine the election by 52 to 41 per cent for Romney. Romney needs a miracle tomorrow night. Obama need only hold his ground.