Tuesday, May 21, 2013
WASHINGTON -- As many as 50 million Americans are expected to tune in Wednesday night for the first face-to-face showdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.
Workers prepare the set for Wednesday night’s presidential debate, the first of three, at the Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver. The debate is scheduled to start just after 9 p.m.
The Associated Press
2012 PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES
When: Tonight, 9 p.m.
Where: University of Denver
Moderator: PBS NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer
Focus: Domestic policy
Vice Presidential Debate
When: Oct. 11, 9 p.m.
Where: Centre College, Danville, Ky.
Moderator: Martha Raddatz, senior foreign affairs correspondent, ABC News
Focus: Foreign and domestic policy
When: Oct. 16, 9 p.m.
Where: Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.
Moderator: Candy Crowley, chief political correspondent, CNN
Focus: Foreign and domestic policy
When: Oct. 22, 9 p.m.
Where: Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.
Moderator: Bob Schieffer, chief Washington correspondent, CBS News
Focus: Foreign policy
Historians suggest that televised debates rarely decide a presidential election. But memorable one-liners (Ronald Reagan's "There you go again" to Jimmy Carter), uncouth mannerisms (think: a sweaty Richard Nixon or a sighing Al Gore) and long-winded, wonky answers can shape public perception.
The first of the three presidential debates will be about domestic affairs, but expect both candidates to try to bring up other issues to make themselves look good and the other guy look bad. Here's an (unscientific) list of things to watch out for in Round 1 of Obama vs. Romney:
Playing It Safe
As the front-runner, the president has the most to lose by appearing to be too aggressive or unveiling potentially controversial initiatives. Polls suggest he scores higher than Romney on the always-important "likeability" index. For those reasons, many observers believe the president will play it safe yet defend his record against the inevitable attacks from Romney.
"I think his challenge, first of all, is to protect his lead," said Alan Schroeder, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University and author of "Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV." "So this may not be the opportune time for big, bold departures from what he has said previously."
Congress has so far punted on whether to extend tax cuts for all Americans (Republican plan) or for all except households earning $250,000 a year (Democratic and Obama plan). Expect to see Obama continue his mantra that Romney would cut taxes for the rich and enact a budget plan that would raise taxes on the middle class.
"Meanwhile, there has been very little scrutiny of President Obama's tax plan and hopefully Romney will ask questions about it," said William McBride, chief economist at the conservative Tax Foundation.
Obamacare and Medicare
The president will likely have to defend a health reform law that remains unpopular with many Americans. At the same time, voters appear hesitant to embrace major changes to Medicare and Medicaid as advocated by Romney and running mate Paul Ryan.
Brookings Institution senior fellow Henry Aaron believes that overall, the advantage here goes to Obama.
"Romney is in a difficult position of having been for it before he was against it," Aaron said of similar health care reforms that then-Gov. Romney helped shepherd into law in Massachusetts. "I think there is a lot of confusion with respect to where Mitt Romney is on Medicaid and Medicare."
Jobs, or lack thereof
Moderator Jim Lehrer is certain to ask the president about the lingering high unemployment rate -- 8.1 percent in August -- and lackluster job creation numbers. It's been the central theme of the Romney campaign thus far, so expect Obama to be on the defensive while trying to convince Americans how much worse it would be without his administration's actions.
"His goal will be to raise the number of voters who blame Bush, not him, for our economic circumstances," Frank Donatelli, chairman of the Republican organization GOPAC and part of several past presidential debate-preparation teams, told Politico recently.
Although an accomplished speech maker, Obama can be long-winded and prone to getting lost in the weeds when it comes to policy. That's a habit his debate team is trying to break. At the same time, expect the president to try to come across as assertive yet cool even in the face of attacks by Romney.
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