On October 16th President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will face off at Hoffstra University in Hempstead, NY for their second debate
of the 2012 Presidential election. After what many, including The Hill,
are reporting as a decisive win by Romney in the first debate on October 3rd, it has become essential for Obama that he wins this second debate. Although Newsmax
reports that polls show that the win at the first debate did little to improve Romney’s chances of success it is unlikely that a second defeat would have such little impact on Obama’s numbers.
With that in mind I have compiled a list of five things that President Obama needs to do if he is to have any chance of winning the October 16th debate.
1) Wake Up!
One of the largest criticisms I have heard waged against Obama’s performance in Denver was that he seemed to be half asleep through much of the debate. Though many theories have been put forward to explain Obama’s lack of energy at the debate – from questions about how prepared he was for the debate to the effects of the altitude in Denver
– the one thing that everyone agrees is that, if he wants to have any chance at winning in Hempstead, Obama must be more energized.
One thing in Obama’s favor is the format of the next debate. The Hempstead debate is a town hall style debate with interaction with the crowd. This is more akin to the campaign trail that Obama thrives on. If Obama can bring the same energy that we saw at campaign stops in the days following the Denver debate then he will be in a much better position to win the Hempstead debate.
2) Swing Away
reports that in the days since the Denver debate, “President Obama’s campaign has launched an all-out attack on Mitt Romney’s truthfulness to pivot the narrative away from his weak debate performance on Wednesday night.” The question is why didn’t he do this during the debate?
Had President Obama come out swinging every time Romney stated something questionable he would have had a much different debate; and if he wants to win the next debate he needs to be sure to do this. By calling Romney out like this, he not only calls attention to glaring inaccuracies
in Romney’s statements – which to be fair Romney could do with some of Obama’s statements as well – but also puts Romney on the defensive rather than allowing the Republican challenger to attack. One of the issues that Obama faced in the first debate was that he seemed to be on the defensive most of the time; in order to win it will be important that he goes on the offensive more often in the next debate.
3) Get Witty
In addition to pointing out factual errors in Romney’s statements over the last few days, Obama has also consistently used witty comments to win over crowds at campaign stops since the first debate. One way that Obama can get both the studio and national audience behind him at the next debate is to do the same thing. A disadvantage Obama has is that he can come across as almost too reserved at times which can cause a disconnect between him and the crowd. In Fairfax, VA the President did a great job of connecting to the crowd when he made the statement
When he was asked what he’d actually do to cut spending and reduce the deficit, his big example is to go after public television. (Laughter.) So for all you moms and kids out there, don’t worry -- someone is finally getting tough on Big Bird. (Laughter.) Rounding him up. Elmo has got to watch out, too. (Laughter.) Governor Romney plans to let Wall Street run wild again, but he’s going to bring down the hammer on "Sesame Street." It makes perfect sense. (Laughter and applause.)
If Obama can keep that same sense of humor going on the 16th he has a real chance to make a connection with the crowd in the same way, something that can only benefit his overall debate performance.
4) Target the middle class
The middle class is without a doubt the largest demographic of voters in the United States; without a large chunk of middle class voters it is impossible to win an election. The good thing for President Obama is that this is also a group that Romney has had trouble convincing that he really has their best interests at heart; especially since his 47% gaffe.
To an extent, Obama did attempt to target the middle class in Denver, however, the combination of his lack of energy and unwillingness to go after Romney at several instances undercut his message. In the next debate it is imperative that Obama makes an impassioned argument to the middle class about how he will help them and how Romney would hurt them. He needs to move beyond simply stating that Romney hasn’t released specifics about what he is going to do and Obama must give his own specifics about how his plans have helped the middle class over the last four years, and will continue to do so over the next four. He should be excitedly telling viewers about the auto bailout, Obamacare, school loan legislation, and how each of these things has helped the middle class. He needs to also hit strong on his jobs plan and how, if Congress would pass it, the middle class would benefit. Again, he lightly touched on these things in the last debate but not nearly enough and with little or no passion; to win he must make this a center point for his argument.
5) Showcase foreign policy achievements
One of the areas where President Obama has had great success over the last four years is in foreign policy. Unsurprisingly the Romney campaign has actually tried to turn this around on Obama and make it a weakness, a common tactic in political campaigns.
Obama needs to do two things regarding his foreign policy to not only help him win the next debate but also to benefit his campaign overall. First, he needs to be sure to point to all of the foreign policy successes his administration has had every chance he gets. Over the last four years he has, to name a few successes, taken out Osama bin Laden and severely weakened Al Qaeda; ended the war in Iraq; successfully intervened in Libya in a way that the international community not only respected but took part in; worked out the New Start treaty with Russia to help stem the tide of nuclear proliferation; and most importantly greatly improved the level of respect for the United States worldwide after the extreme lows under President Bush. Obama is one Democrat whom it would be impossible to call weak on foreign policy or the military with a straight face and he needs to point that fact out, and often.
More importantly, however, is the second thing he needs to do. He needs to make it real to the American people. He needs to explain how the American people are safer now than they were four years ago because of his foreign policy and why they would be less safe under Romney. It is not enough to point out that we have weakened Al Qaeda and are continuing to do so; he needs to emphasise how this lessens the chance of an attack against America. This is especially important in the wake of the attacks in Libya which have left some American’s questioning Obama’s response. It is important that he show strength and resolve on dealing with that matter while also highlighting his successes.
It is still unclear what effect the debates will actually have on the outcome of the election in November; however, with a race as close as this one, no opportunity to gain ground should be overlooked. If Obama does these five things he has a real chance of beating Romney in the next debate and improving his overall chances of victory in the presidential election. If he fails in the debate, he runs the risk of his base becoming de-energized and, worse, the Romney campaign gaining a steady momentum that could lead the challenger to victory in November.