Incumbent President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney face off in the first presidential debate of the 2012 election. Beginning at 9:00 PM EST on Wednesday, October 3, host Jim Lehrer will question the candidates on domestic policy at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado (Source). News outlets have already begun dissecting the debates, and my favorite articles so far come from NPR.
“To Prep for Debates, Stand-Ins Take the Stage” emphasizes the importance of preparation in the debates. “‘It comes down to the candidate making a connection with the audience in a comfortable way,’ [Sen. Judd] Gregg says. ‘It gives the audience two reactions: one that they like the person; and two, that they see the person as a leader.’ And to do that, he says, you have to spend a lot of time preparing” (Source). Obama clearly has preparation experience because he participated in the 2008 presidential debates. However, Romney has a better strategy going into the debates: the underdog story.
Romney’s senior advisor, Beth Myers, sent a widely circulated memo hyping up Obama’s rhetorical skills and downplaying Romney’s ability to win the debate. Myers writes, “Given President Obama’s natural gifts and extensive seasoning under the bright lights of the debate stage, this is unsurprising. President Obama is a uniquely gifted speaker, and is widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history. This will be the eighth one-on-one presidential debate of his political career. For Mitt Romney, it will be his first” (Source). The Romney camp is purposefully and masterfully lowering audience expectations. This is an effective strategy because Romney will undoubtedly debate and deliver a stronger persuasive message than his audience thinks he can. If audience expectations are very high for Obama, it will be difficult for him to actually reach that standard. Myers and the Romney camp are effectively using the underdog story so that audiences will be pleasantly surprised by his debate performance.
NPR’s “Secrets of Winning the Presidential Debates” by Linton Weeks has been my favorite debate read this week. Weeks offers five tips for “winning” the debate and compiles expert tips and opinions on nonverbal communication, voice, attire, and hair and makeup for both Obama and Romney.
Will you be watching the first presidential debate? Predictions?