Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Debate 1 Preview: All Eyes on Nevada

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With just about 24 hours until the first Presidential debate both candidates are busy with intense rehearsal and lowering expectations. Both candidates want to come into the debate Wednesday night as the underdog and as a result wow viewers with an unexpected “win.”

Where is the President choosing to spend the crucial days before the first debate? In Nevada, of course.  The Obama campaign hopes that the President’s presence here will boost media coverage in the area – hopefully reinvigorating Nevada Democrats who came out in large support of the President in 2008.

On Sunday night, the President spoke at an outdoor rally at Desert Pines high school to a crowd of approximately 11,200 supporters, many of whom were Latino. Obama was quick to lower expectations for Wednesday, remarking that Romney is a good debater while self – deprecatingly calling his own debate skills “just ok”. Team Obama has also said that the President is “no good at sound bites” and has pointed out all of the time Romney has had to practice.

Obama played to his caring and friendly image at the Nevada rally saying he is most concerned about having a serious discussion about what the country needs to keep growing, as “this is what the country deserves.”  Obama promised that he was going to fight for Americans and noted that when he travels around the country he does not see “victims”, in reference to Romney’s recent comments about the 47 percent of America who don’t pay federal income taxes and support the President and not Romney. This rally was specifically targeted to reach the extremely important Latino population in Nevada. Before the rally began, the Grammy winning Latin rock band Mana electrified the crowd with an energetic performance.

Mitt Romney too is attempting to reach the extremely influential Latino voting block in Nevada before the first debate. While Romney has been in Colorado in the days leading up to the debate, he has recently opened a campaign office in a Hispanic neighborhood in Nevada and sent his Spanish-speaking son Craig to campaign at its grand opening. In terms of the upcoming debate, the Romney campaign is also trying to lower expectations noting that Obama is an “extremely gifted speaker.”

The Romney campaign also announced Sunday that Senator Marco Rubio will campaign on Tuesday afternoon at a rally inside Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, the same city where Obama has been intensely rehearsing for the debate. It is interesting that the Romney campaign believes a Cuban American from Miami will have much of an impact on the largely Mexican American and Central American – American of Nevada. Perhaps they believe that all Latinos – no matter their country of origin – have the same issues and vote as one block.

The spouses of both candidates are also spending time in Nevada. Ann Romney spoke Sunday in Henderson at the Henderson Convention Center. First lady, Michele Obama is scheduled to campaign in Reno on Wednesday before joining the President for the televised debate.

So, what does all of this back and forth mean for Wednesday’s debate? First, it highlights the strategies of both campaigns. The Obama campaign would like voters to believe that Obama is already so far ahead that the debate will not matter and voters should basically tune out until Election Day. The Romney campaign on the other hand is prepping America for a brilliantly surprising performance from Romney.

Romney plans to “fact check” the President and ask tough questions on the unemployment rate and national debt. The Romney campaign is hoping that these tough questions will cause the President to wither and give an extremely sub par performance.

While The Week Magazine only puts Romney’s chances at blowing the debate out of the water at 60 percent, this number may be higher when recalling Romney’s performance in the primary debates. Romney did best when the crowd was not allowed to participate and it is likely that the audience will have to be silent on Wednesday night. This election has been about likeability, and Romney has lost the support of many who probably should support him, but are turned off by his seemingly sketchy wealthy private equity past. What does Romney need to do in this debate? Ask Obama the tough questions, without coming off as a complete attack, and portray himself as a normal human being and the lovable man that Ann Romney fell in love with.

What does Obama  need to do on Wednesday?  President Obama needs to stay on message with the narrative that has worked thus far – this election is about a choice between two different visions for America. He needs to answer every question as a choice, not a defense. Obama also needs to embody the caring President that Americans feel they can have a beer with. He needs to stay nice and not viciously attack Romney, as Obama’s likeability with voters is one of his biggest assets.

Who will win the debate? That is up to the candidates. It will be up to which candidate can answer the tough questions but in a way that does not alienate the other candidate. The winner of the first debate will have to successfully play the middle ground between leading America into a period of prosperity and growth while still remaining a trustworthy individual.

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