Wednesday night’s debate offers Mitt Romney a chance to reverse the momentum in key battleground states. He has the most to gain, and to lose. Here’s what each candidate should do to capitalize on this unique opportunity.
Romney’s biggest vulnerability is the prominent perception that he’s a rich guy who really doesn’t care about the average person. This has been carefully cultivated by the opposition and some media and enhanced by Romney’s own mistakes. This is why the infamous 47% tape was so damaging. His top priority must be to alter this perception. Otherwise, the race is over. Voters have no innate problem with rich candidates. FDR and JFK made that clear. The candidate doesn’t have to be like them, but the voters must feel the candidate is for them.
So Mitt, don’t offer any programmed language that shows you’re one of us. You’re not and that’ s OK. Give specific examples, in your background and policies, that show you’re human and you care.
Secondly, try to get under the President’s skin (in a nice way). The President’s “likability factor” is his biggest advantage over Romney. However, any President rarely faces a one-on-one confrontation where he is challenged in such direct terms. This is an adjustment and President Obama has shown a bit of a condescending streak (view Hillary is “likable enough” comment).
The President’s team decided long ago the path to re-election is to make Romney an unacceptable alternative. Many feel Obama’s economic record left them with no other choice politically. Indeed, the incumbent’s support remains below 50% in the polls. They have done a good job of creating a Romney caricature (Mitt’s personal negatives are sky high) and Obama must close the deal on that in the debate.
The president must keep his cool. He’s known for that. But it’s been four years since his last debate. He’s likely a little rusty. Romney had 20 raucous debates that nicked him up, but also toughened him up.
Romney must address the 47% issue head on and Obama must capitalize on it.
The real test for each candidate may well be what role he plays in any surprise, and debates often have them — Al Gore sighing, Nixon sweating profusely, Bush 41 checking his watch. The unanticipated moments are often the most revealing…and the ones that impact voters the most.
The writer is a speaking coach, political consultant, former TV anchor and former elected official. Tune in to this blog for a post-debate video analysis.