Nice place for a slugfest.
I’m an adjunct professor at the University of Denver which just happens to be hosting the first presidential debate of this election season. That’s right — Barry and Mitt are coming to my school. If I may brag for a moment, the University is doing a simply superb job of hosting the event and using it as a springboard for educational and civic activities. I’m just proud to be an observer.
So, what do we know about debates? Here are a few thoughts.
- The incumbent has something to lose. The challenger has something to win. We all know that the President is… well, presidential. As a result of the debate, the President could look smaller but he can’t look larger. He’s already huge. It’s the opposite for the challenger. He could look bigger … he could even look presidential. So, expect Romney to be more aggressive while Obama plays defense.
- We like Obama; Romney needs to be careful. Obama’s likability ratings are much higher than Romney’s. Even people who disagree with Obama seem to like him. Even people who agree with Romney seem to dislike him. If Romney attacks Obama in ways that seem churlish or cheap, the audience will rally to Obama’s defense. Romney can attack but only on policy.
- The objective is to win over the audience. A battle has two sides; the objective is to crush the enemy. A debate has three sides; the objective is to win over the audience. Launching a mean-spirited ad hominem attack may feel good but it won’t win the audience’s heart. Watch for the two men to talk past each other as they try to reach their audiences.
- Tone is telling. Obama projects an aura of coolness under fire … but he has a temper. If Romney can needle him into a temper tantrum, it’s a major coup for the challenger. On the other hand, Romney typically comes across as wooden and mechanical. He needs a more humane tone to make an emotional connection.
- Most of us have made up our minds. Unless Obama or Romney says something truly stupid, I don’t think the debate will sway public opinion much at all. Both sides will play not to lose in this first debate. That will change in later debates if one side is feeling desperate.
I won’t be in the debate hall (I’m only an adjunct) but I will be outside on the commons, taking it all in on a giant TV screen. If the broadcast shows the commons, look for my smiling face. I’ll be sure to wave back.