US campaign diary: Three reasons for Democrats to be calm about tonight’s debate

by Nikhil Dyundi

It’s nearly here. Two frustrating weeks since president Obama phoned in his performance in the Danville debate, he has the opportunity to make amends.

Across the nation, Democrat nerves will jangle and nails will be bitten. The more volatile will fear disaster at the end of every sentence while even the most confident will feel anxious.

But, in spite of the unavoidable tumult of emotion, rationally Dems should be calm. There are three reasons the result in New York tonight should be more to our liking: expectations about Romney’s performance, his weaknesses and the format

First, Romney is facing a tough fight in the media expectations game. He won last time out and won big. Anything less than a comparable result will have journalists writing about a drop in his level of performance.

The swing of the media pendulum is as predictable as it is exaggerated. The last fortnight gave them the opportunity to write a Romney rebound into reality. An avalanche of gushing pieces about the GOP candidate’s performance has changed the prism through which the public view the race and inevitably shifted the polls.

But that story has been written.

Barring a similarly pallid non-performance from Obama as in the first debate, a passable showing from the president will spawn a wave of comeback pieces.

A presidential fightback will give the media the new angle they need to churn through the next six days until the final debate. There will be review pieces on the performance, tick tock pieces on the minutiae of how the campaign prepared Obama and impact pieces looking at how it played in the battlegrounds.

In short, a week’s worth of better coverage awaits from just a reasonable performance.

Second, that’s still Mitt Romney facing Barack Obama: the man who wrote that Detroit should be allowed to go bust, who said that 47% of voters were not his concern and who hasn’t released his tax returns.

At times in the first debate, Obama had to go out of his way to avoid hitting Romney on these issues. Obama was like a boxer in a rigged fight, pulling his punches and holding the other guy up in the clinches.

This time he just has to throw a couple of bombs.  Romney’s performance in the softest of interviews in this race has made it patently clear that he does not possess anything like an effective defence.

Third, there is the format: it’s a town hall. This means there will be real live people involved in the debate, not just as a passive audience but asking questions. Obama might not be Clinton when it comes to emoting with the man on the street, but in these settings Mitt Romney does a mean impression of the tin man.

Whether it’s answering a question about how closely he follows Nascar by saying some of his friends are team owners, or offering Rick Perry a $10,000 bet in the middle of a debate, this guy is not a people person.

He’s stiff, is prone to waffling and seems uncomfortable in his own skin.

All charges that have been levelled at Obama in the past, but on this occasion the president gets to play the everyday Joe. All he has to do is look the questioner in the eye, remember their name and answer simply.

The combination of high expectations for Romney with his glaring weaknesses and discomfort with members of the public mean that tonight should, let’s repeat that, should be a good result.

Deep breaths people, deep breaths.

Nikhil Dyundi is a registered Democrat and a political consultant

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