Tonight’s presidential debate features the first African- American chief executive defending his seat against— arguably—the most “Establishment”- type candidate that the GOP Eastern Establishment could bring to bear. (Point of Trivia: The Republican Party included on its presidential ticket— either at the top or as running mate— someone named “Bush” or “Dole” in every election between 1976 and 2004.
How’s that for a party of insiders?) All three presidential debates between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney will take place this month, as will the single debate between Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Expect few innovations—other than the presence of CNN anchor and chief political correspondent Candy Crowley as one of the debate moderators, the first female journalist to do so since ABC News correspondent Carole Simpson ref’ed a 1992 three-way between President George H.W. Bush and his challengers, Democrat Bill Clinton, and Indy-billionaire H. Ross Perot.
(The moderators for the other two debates between Obama and Romney are PBS executive editor Jim Lehrer and CBS News anchor and host Bob Schieffer. Another female journalist—ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz—will moderate the debate between Biden and Ryan, on October 11.)
The first debate tonight, moderated by Lehrer, will take place at the University of Denver, Denver. It will be divided into six 15-minute segments with topics selected by the moderator—in this case, related to the economy and domestic policy.
By Joe Harris
Each segment will open with a question from the moderator, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond.
The second presidential debate, on Tuesday, October 16, will be a town meeting at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York, moderated by Crowley. The questioners—undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization—will pose their questions about foreign and domestic matters. Obama and Romney will each have two minutes to respond, with an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate discussion.
The final debate between the president and Gov. Romney, moderated by Schieffer, will be a local affair, taking place on Monday, October 22, at Lynn University in Boca Raton. The format—identical to the first debate— will concern foreign policy issues.
Both Romney and the president have challenges going into tonight’s exchange. Romney has to get the heartrates of both women and lower-middle income white voters going in order to counter Obama’s huge leads among African-Americans and Hispanics.
Having failed to make them swoon after the RNC in Tampa, Romney has seen the evaporation his once-biggest assets: The ability to paint the economy as dismal, and his appeal to swingstate voters. Polls show that Romney can’t count on voter angst about the economy in these final weeks, and the strengths which might have delivered Independents and moderates have been sacrificed at the altar of Social Conservatism and a need to mollify the radical elements of his right flank, which even now remain suspicious of his Mormon faith and (now-forgotten) progressive record in the Bay State.
Obama can still capsize: A major fumble mid-debate could dominate the news cycle and shift the narrative’s focus. It doesn’t have to be big, just distracting. (Let’s not forget his smarmy, “You’re likeable enough, Hillary” remark in 2008.) To be continued.