(CNN) – With 37 days to go before the presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney needs a strong debate performance to change the course of his campaign, according to Sunday’s roundtable discussion with CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley on “State of the Union.
As polls continue to show Romney behind President Barack Obama, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos emphasized the importance of the first presidential debate on Wednesday, saying it is the first chance for voters to see Romney and the president one-on-one and figure out which of them is the “alpha dog.”
On the other hand, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake thought one of Romney’s biggest problems through the campaign has been constantly attacking the president without presenting any type of clear vision of where he wants to take the country.
“He won’t even tell you which tax deductions he’s going to take away,” Lake said, though adding she believed that Obama would struggle against Romney, saying that challengers generally do better in debates against incumbents.
CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash, meanwhile, said that what the debates really deal with, besides issues and candidates firing off one-liners against each other, is establishing a “comfort level” among voters. Citing recent polling, Bash said Romney has not created that comfort with voters, and the debates have to create that foundation for Romney to win the election.
Lake agreed, saying that Romney “just seems weird to people” and out of touch.
Castellanos, a CNN contributor, thought differently, saying liability isn't as important for Romney as convincing voters that he can fix the economy and contrasting his message with the president’s. Obama’s message, said Castellanos, has been “I’ve done the best that I can. Hang on, it’s going to get better. Just don’t go back.” Castellanos said he believed that message gives Romney an opening during the debates to show leadership.
Bash said that Romney’s past debate performances have been mixed. He sometimes “blows it,” pointing to his infamous $10,000 bet against Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the primaries, but has then been able to bounce back.
As for the president, Castellanos attributed Obama’s fortunes to the belief that “if you’re not going to get change, you’ll take security.” He said if Romney could not show that he could steer the country back, then voters will stick with the incumbent.
Lake disagreed, instead saying voters approve of Obama’s performance and are increasingly confident about the economy.
For her part, Bash thought Obama has benefited from his likability since “day one.”
“(Obama’s likability) is a reservoir that the Obama campaign has been really using to sustain the campaign and the president even when the economy is bad,” she said.
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