1.Expect scripted rhetoric rather than off the cuff spontaneity
Experts say debates have become debates in name only.
"The most important thing to keep in mind about the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates is that they are not really debates," Leslie Lenkowsky, clinical professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs told Indiana University
"These quadrennial events are more like carefully staged -- and rehearsed -- press conferences."
Lenkowsky's point is especially valid due to the fact that for the first time in the history of debates, in a break with tradition, the Commission on Presidential Debates released the topics to the presidential candidates for the debate ahead of time, DeseretNews
Debate moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS NewsHour not only announced the topics of the questions on the commission Web site, but also gave what topic would carry more weight: three questions will be on the economy, one on health care, one on the role of government and one on governing, according to US News
Writing for the Journal & Courier
, Jeffrey McCall, a professor of communication at DePauw University in Greencastle, summed it up this way: the debates ultimately show us "which campaign choreographer can best coax his candidate to look poised, use the proper hand gestures, memorize the play-it-safe lines, smile when needed, growl when needed and spout the pre-planned zingers at the right time."
2. Presidential nominee Romney vs. Romney of years past
"Wednesday's presidential debate promises sharp contrasts," writes Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post
One candidate wants to repeal Obamacare, one candidate invented it. One opposed the auto industry bailout, one takes credit for it. One doubts the scientific consensus about climate change, one believes in it. One wants to "voucherize" Medicare, one wants to save it. One dismisses nearly half of Americans as a bunch of moochers, and one claims to champion the struggling middle class.
"It promises to be an epic clash: Mitt Romney vs. Mitt Romney. Oh, and President Obama will be there, too."
"Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?" asks Brad Bannon, the President of Bannon Communications Research, a polling and consulting firm, in US News
. "That's the question that Barack Obama will force Mitt Romney to answer."
Because Romney is the challenger and lags President Obama in most national polls — by some accounts between five and nine points — some Republicans see the debate as the last chance for Romney to change the trajectory of the race.
The economy is expected to be a big focus of Wednesday's showdown. Since Romney bases his case for being president on his evident success in business, where he made a fortune as CEO of Bain Capital, expect him to hammer away at his economic rescue plan to jumpstart the economy with new jobs. He'll likely offer his background as an alternative to Obama "to get America working again."
But this aim could backfire, if Obama seizes the chance to pounce on how Romney created jobs in the past -- by killing them. Challenging Romney's job-creation claims strategy played a crucial role in the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's reelection campaign in 1994.
While Romney at the time touted his job creation of 10,000 jobs at Bain, how those jobs were created ultimately came to light. One of the leaflets challenging Romney's job-creation claims at the time, said "Over 250 workers at Bain's Ampad plant in Marion, Ind. know better."
Ampad paper plant laid off one-fifth of its workers, cut wages, sharply reduced health benefits and eliminated the company retirement plan. Some were offered to come back for a lower wage. "In six months, over 200 of the employees Romney and Bain had re-hired were all fired," Salon
4. Can debates turnaround campaigns this close to Election day?
“Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race is going to change,” predicted
Republican New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, in an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
"But here's the great news for Republicans. We have a candidate who is going to do extraordinarily well on Wednesday night. He's going to contrast what his view is with what the president's record is, the president's view for the future. And this whole race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning."
"Wednesday night is the restart of this campaign, and I think you're going to see those numbers start to move right back in the other direction."
"So I have absolute confidence that when we get to Thursday morning, George, you're all going to be shaking your heads saying it's a brand- new race," he said.
But Gwen Ifill, managing editor of “Washington Week” and senior correspondent for the “PBS Newshour,” who moderated the vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008, said that comments like Christie's are misleading.
In her article for the Washington Post
, "Five myths about presidential debates" she writes, "Minds were already made up. Gallup polls going back decades show precious little shift in established voter trends before and after debates."
"For the Romney-Ryan ticket, this history is not good news," Lenkowsky added. "With polls showing the Republicans trailing, both nationally and in key battleground states, the likelihood that they will be able to use the debates to overcome the gap is small."
5. Obama will play it safe
With his growing lead in the polls, Obama's top priority is to avoid a catastrophic performance that could cause independent voters to reassess their support, The Chicago Tribune said.
As the Washington Post
notes, "The president and his team know they’re ahead and that the burden of proof lies with Romney. Given that reality, don’t expect any risk-taking from the incumbent."
For each candidate, the challenge will be to rattle their opponent enough to prompt an off-script outburst.
"Obama just wants to avoid any big mistakes. Typically candidates are undone more by their own mistakes than by the successes of their opponents, the witty ripostes or devastating one liners of their opponents," said George Washington University political science professor John Sides, according to the Chicago paper.
6.Romney is for the 100%
Expect Romney to use words of compassion to convey that he understands the American people. But critics say Romney has to be careful.
Romney gives the impression of being willing to say anything he believes voters want to hear, Robinson says.
Erick Erickson, the founder of the conservative RedState blog and a CNN contributor, wrote a lengthy blog
post in 2011 that echoed Robinson's sentiment, saying Romney is inauthentic, that he lacks a “core,” a consistent set of beliefs.
“The man has no core beliefs other than in himself. You want him to be tough? He’ll be tough. You want him to be sensitive? He’ll be sensitive. You want him to be for killing the unborn? He’ll go all in on abortion rights until he wants to run for an office where it is not in his advantage,” he said.
Recently, Romney's campaign suffered major damage after a leaked video showed the candidate at a fancy fundraiser saying 47 percent of Americans are "dependent upon government" and "believe that they are victims."
So, expect one of Romney's goals in the debate to show that he cares about all Americans, the Chicago Tribune
For this goal, Robinson offered some advice. At this point, it’s unclear to me that a “real” Romney exists. If one does, however, he’d better show up Wednesday night.
"If there’s one thing we know about presidential debates, it’s that voters can often look right through the persona and see the person."
About the debates
The debate itself, at the University of Denver, is the first of three face-offs, each lasting 90 minutes, which will be aired at 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST on every major network and cable news channel.
Denver, on Wednesday night — Obama’s 20th wedding anniversary — is followed by debates Oct. 16 on Long Island, near New York and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla. — just a few miles from the home where that secret Romney video was shot.
Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan face off Oct. 11 in Kentucky.