NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Ronald Reagan was charismatic, comfortable in front of a camera, and was very good with words. Jimmy Carter wasn’t any of those things. Knowing he couldn’t avoid debates altogether, Carter agreed to only one. Even without the Iranian hostage crisis, a foundering economy, and double-digit interest rates, Carter’s staff knew the debate would be ugly. It was. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” was Reagan’s take-away line.
Before the debate, Carter’s staff tried to downplay debate expectations. Do you remember the quote, “you don’t judge a President by how well they remember 3 x 5 note cards”? In every campaign since then the standard pre-debate strategy is to lower expectations for your candidate and build-up the other guy as a debating titan.
It’s a ridiculous approach.
The Obama campaign has been saying for weeks that Mitt Romney is the better debater. He’s more practiced, having gone through more than 20 similar events during the GOP primaries. The Romney campaign says the President is an outstanding public speaker, and that his rhetoric (not his policies) carried the day four years ago. None of it is true. Actually both men are skilled public speakers. Both have broad experience in a debate setting. Both are sharp and are in command of their thoughts and their policy proposals.
I expect the person who emerges as President to be an exceptional man – someone who, indeed, can respond persuasively during a 90-minute question and answer session about the issues facing our nation. I’d welcome the campaign that was bold enough to say, “ candidate-fill-in-the-blank expects to win tonight’s debate by explaining to the American people in clear, simple language why his policies and ideas are better than his opponent’s.”
If Mitt Romney wants to finally get on top of this race he’ll have to be a clear-cut winner in these face-to-face campaign encounters. And he should be expected to do well. Barack Obama inherited a weak economy, and failed to improve it in four years. Unemployment is high. GDP growth is tiny. His foreign policy is a shambles. His signature achievement – Obamacare – remains unpopular. If Mitt Romney can’t win a debate on those ground, well, his debating skills would about as lackluster as the rest of his campaign so far.
Tonight’s debate will be broadcast on WSAU AM-550 FM-99.9 at 8pm CT. Tonight’s Brewers vs. Padres game will be on Fox Sports 1390.