Pre-game: Debate prep and punditry
September 24th, 2012
01:38 PM ET
10 years ago

Pre-game: Debate prep and punditry

(CNN) – With nine days until the first presidential debate and candidates vying for the prized bloc of undecided voters, surrogates are playing a game of lowering expectations over which candidate holds the advantage going into the face offs.

However, according to a CNN/ORC International poll taken just after the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama has a 25 point 59%-34% advantage among likely voters over Republican nominee Mitt Romney when asked which candidate is more likely to win the debates.

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"Then Sen. Obama had the same edge over Sen. John McCain when voters were asked four years ago who would win the 2008 debates," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Going back even further in the history books, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore were all seen as more likely to win their debates."

While the likely voters think President Barack Obama will have an advantage in the three presidential debates, according to the survey, his campaign surrogates disagree. They cite Romney's primary experience of many debates allowing the opposing candidate the time to hone his debating ability. Lowering the expectations for their guy.

Romney's supporters, of course, see a different picture – in fact, that of David v. Goliath. Obama is considered a very strong debater, they remind, and they downplay Romney's experience. Lowering the expectations for their guy.

No one doubts the debates will be key however. And the lowering of expectations, as the logic goes, may improve the chances for a perceived good performance after each debate. In fact, it's possible for a candidate to "win" the debate but actually "lose" the debate because they weren't good enough. So setting the bar low is important for both sides.

In a CNN/ORC poll taken August 7 and 8, 57% of likely voters say the debates are very important in determining their vote in November while 26% say the candidates' performances are somewhat important and only 15% saying the debates do not matter at all.

Beginning next Wednesday President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will appear for the first time on the same stage in a nationally televised debate.

The debates are scheduled to be held on October 3 in Denver, Colorado, October 16, in Hempstead, New York, and October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida. CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, anchor of "State of the Union," will moderate the October 16 debate. Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, face off on October 11 in Danville, Kentucky.

Republican and Democrats jostled over the presidential debate prospects this last weekend.

Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs said Sunday Romney has an advantage leading into October's contests given the GOP challenger's more recent exposure to the debate stage during the hotly contested Republican primaries.

"Mitt Romney I think has an advantage, because he's been through 20 of these debates in the primaries over the last year," Gibbs said on Fox News. "He even bragged that he was declared the winner in 16 of those debates. So I think, in that sense, having been through this much more recently than President Obama, I think he starts with an advantage."

But Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham also told CNN's Candy Crowley Sunday that as the weeks wind down to November he expects concerns about the economy will transcend any gaffes or questions about Romney's financial portfolio.

"During the debate, we're going to focus on four years of Barack Obama, not everything just about what Mitt Romney may have said or put his dog on the car," Graham added, referring to those who have made noise about Romney taking a family trip in 1983 with his dog in a cage strapped to the top of his car.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres said GOP nominee Mitt Romney must use the debates to "score points" on the economy, the No. 1 concern of voters.

"The most important thing that Mitt Romney can do is give people confidence that he knows how to fix this economy," Ayres told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union." "They don't believe (President Barack) Obama has or can, but they are not yet persuaded that Mitt Romney can either. That's the most important thing to come out of your debate."

Conservative writer Ann Coulter said on ABC Sunday that the debates are important because voters will see an "unfiltered" Romney, which she says will make all the difference in undecided voters.

Though surrogates claim lower expectations for Romney, the former governor must also do damage control over several consecutive weeks of a campaign struggling with gaffes.

Former President Bill Clinton said last Thursday Romney's "47%" comment will place a "heavier burden" on the Republican challenger in debates to further explain the potentially damaging comments.

Romney made the controversial comments at a private fund-raiser in Florida in May caught on a secretly recorded video telling high-dollar donors that nearly half of Americans would automatically not vote for him because they are dependent on the government and consider themselves "victims."

Though he has conceded his comments lacked elegance, Romney was quick to double-down on the remarks, standing by the crux of his argument suggesting an issue of government dependency in the United States.

Following an uproar of criticism from Democrats and a wave of wary Republicans questioning the GOP standard bearer's campaign, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed the handwringing, insisting Romney had a good week and was in no need of a turnaround.

"We had a good week last week, I think in retrospect, in that we were able to frame up the debate last week in the sense of, what future do we want, and do you want, out there for your kids and grandkids. And clearly, things are not going well in this country," Priebus said on ABC's "This Week."

But how confident are the candidates in matching their opponent in the fleeting days of September before they match up?

Romney has been preparing for the debates intermittently throughout the campaign trail, a schedule Obama traveling press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One marks more preparation for debate "than any candidate in modern history."

"They've made clear that his performing well is a make-or-break piece for their campaign," Psaki said of the Romney team's efforts attempting to raise the stakes for Romney.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has also been pausing from the campaign trail to prepare for his one chance to spar with Vice President Joe Biden following the first presidential debate.

As for Obama, senior campaign adviser David Axelrod said last weekend the incumbent needs to be more concise considering his lack of practice delivering the quick, sharp banter necessary on the debate stage.

"He's got to speak shorter, that's all," Axelrod told Reuters. "He just hasn't had to do that for the last four years, so that's a part of the discipline of preparing for these debates."

Notwithstanding the campaign rhetoric, polling in battleground states among likely voters underscores Romney's need to shine in the debates in order to not only carry all of the states Sen. John McCain did in the 2008 elections but also win about a half dozen more in order to take office in January 2013.

Obama campaign officials said Saturday it is not the national polls but the swing state polls that matter.

"We're either tied or in the lead in every battleground state 45 days out," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters in Milwaukee. "I think you will see a tightening in the national polls going forward. What I care way more about is Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, etc. In those states, I feel our pathways to victory are there. There are two different campaigns, one in the battlegrounds and one everywhere else. That's why the national polls aren't relevant to this campaign."

The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International, from Sept. 7-9, with 1,022 adults nationwide, including 875 registered voters and 709 likely voters, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points, with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for likely voters.

CNN's Dana Davidsen and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney • President Obama • Presidential Debate
soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. Hammerer

    Winning or losing the debate will be decided by the media so why is there any question about who will be declared winner.
    The media is about the only support Obama has.

    September 24, 2012 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  2. Noto BO

    Romney is going to blow Obama out of the water Bo has nothing to run on he can't just say the same thing over and over it's not bushes fault it is his and the crap with Romney and taxes give me a break heard it 23 million times and GM is alive and bin laden is dead I think I heard that 16 plus trillion times Obama you have nothing remember you graded yourself with an incomplete your a failure a zero. People know you will say and promise anything to get a vote. Obama is bad luck for this country just look at the mess our economy is in and prices for healthcare food and gas are all up and will continue to rise with this guy as president. Can't wait till the debates and Romney showes the world what liars BO /biden truly are and how they do not deserve another term!

    September 24, 2012 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  3. texcal68

    rosco - As long as Governor Romney is hooked up to a lie detector too, I think your idea is a good one.

    September 24, 2012 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  4. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    @Susan Withers, I wholeheartily agree and can find no way to leave a comment on the presidential debate commission website. I thought that this would be important. Per CNN's calculator, you can win with 12 states, but that would be really hard to do.

    September 24, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  5. Michael

    I was always taught growing up..........if you tell the truth, you will never have to "remember" what you said. That's Mitt's problem. He has been on so many sides of so many issues (all of which have been recorded over the years, by the way) that he cannot remember what his stance is any longer. I'd rather vote for a guy/gal that I disagree with but sticks to their consistent ideals, than someone who panders to everyone he/she speaks with. Mitt went from being a "moderate" conservative when he wanted to be Govenor of a liberal state to a "severe conservative" when he wanted the Republican nomination for Pres. I cannot trust a thing that comes out of the guys mouth as it changes every 2 minutes. Back to your day job (or lack thereof) Mitt.

    September 24, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  6. texcal68

    ug - if I could understand your comment about the upcoming debates, I might agree with you.

    September 24, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. texcal68

    Hammerer - if President Obama doesn't have any supporters other than the media, Governor Romney should win the actual election with ease. On November 7, we'll see if your statement is factual.

    September 24, 2012 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  8. ghostriter

    Let's see....Mitt had to debate Crazy Eyes, Governor Doh, Big Daddy Kane, the guy who brought back sweater vests just to make them more cornball than before and Mr. 3 Wives (not all at the EXACT same time)....yep, he's ready for the Big Show........

    September 24, 2012 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  9. midclaser

    All Romney has to do is remind the voters how bad we've suffered in the middle class these last few years

    September 24, 2012 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  10. SM McMahon

    The candidates Romney debated in the Republican primaries were more like a therapy group than real candidates for the highest office in the land.

    September 24, 2012 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  11. texcal68

    Noto BO – According to your comment, you believe Governor Romney will win all three debates. Accepting that you're correct, Governor Romney will become the forty-fifth U.S. President. With that settled, please tell us how President Romney will fix all of America problems. I ask because he hasn't provide any details. Please enlighten us.

    September 24, 2012 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  12. The REAL Truth...

    @Noto BO – Romney is going to blow Obama out of the water
    ROTFLMAO – seriously ???? Obama is a far more skilled orator than Willard. He will blame Obama for everything that is wrong and Mittens has nothing concrete to talk about. Obama will rip apart anything Mittens can throw out there. And talking of showing whom the liars are, it's very simple... the "trust us, we'll fix it" approach does not work for intelligent voters (and I'm not talking about the red state lemmings who will "vote for a door knob over Obama" that Willard is counting on).
    Independents are looking for substance, truth and FACT – something real scarce in the Ryan/Romney campaign. So exactly which tax loopholes are going to be closed to pay for the 20% tax cut? Oh right, you'll work those out AFTER you get elected ??? Yup... NOT !

    September 24, 2012 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  13. Tabeth

    what he said in private, that is whay he is. If the video was never published, no one would know the real Romey!

    September 24, 2012 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  14. wolfpackbob

    It is The Economy, Mr. President. Your Economy, Mr. President.

    September 24, 2012 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  15. The REAL Truth...

    @midclaser – All Romney has to do is remind the voters how bad we've suffered in the middle class these last few years
    Yep, and that will be all she wrote for him. Of course, he'll carefully excluded the REASONS why the middle class has suffered the last few years –
    – $6.4 TRILLION increase in Nat'l Debt by the end of 2008, up to $11.4
    – $850 BILLION TARP bailout for banks too big to fail.
    – 700,00 jobs a month vanishing, 4.3 MILLION jobs lost.
    – a $1.47 TRILLION deficit in 2008
    – TWO unfunded wars that had to be paid for.

    You will note that no-one should be tasked with or blamed for failing to bring the country back in 4 yrs from the brink of the DEPRESSION that the last occupants policies led us to. Factor in the Grand Obstructionist Party policy of adding anti-abortion and defense spending increase riders to EVERY bill (including budgets) and you will find the POTUS has done a stellar job. Just as he will the next four yours after Willard fails miserably (again).

    September 24, 2012 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  16. kayla

    even the repugs know they have an idiot running for president, they just don't want ot admit it.

    September 24, 2012 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  17. pman

    Barrack will wipe the slate clean with Romney. Romney will not be able to improvise. His improvisation is what you saw on the fundraiser tapes. That's his improv. Romney will not know how to continue to speak about the specifics of any of his proposals. All Obama has to do is ask Romney how he will accomplish anything and watch him talk himself into a corner.

    September 24, 2012 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  18. cWhatsNew

    Media should stop debating on the debate. Let people see THE DEBATE and determine themselves.

    September 24, 2012 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  19. Thomas

    Let's see....Mitt had to debate Crazy Eyes, Governor Doh, Big Daddy Kane, the guy who brought back sweater vests just to make them more cornball than before and Mr. 3 Wives (not all at the EXACT same time)....yep, he's ready for the Big Show........

    So True ,
    Now he will try and make Obama look like the angry black guy , then Mitt will play the victim .

    Bet ya ten thousand dollars !

    September 24, 2012 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  20. cali girl

    my Granny always said, "Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching."
    Now enter the dubious fly on the wall video posted last week, thank you Robmey.

    September 24, 2012 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  21. Bushy Walrus

    this won't even be a debate. It will be a lecture by Obama on the truth. Obama will eat itts lunch and steel his lunch money.then send him home with a bloody nose.

    September 24, 2012 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  22. Jason

    Yeah, the media is the only support Obama has. Well, and most voters too. Of course.

    September 24, 2012 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  23. Bushy Walrus

    And where are the rest of Mitts tax returns. We are still waiting for the last 20 years. If Mitt wants to discuss taxes, he needs to show what he paid and on what Island his money lives on.

    September 24, 2012 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  24. texcal68

    midclaser - The suffering of the middle class resulted from over thirty years of bad government policies. Those policies led to the 2008 Meltdown, which led to the Great Contraction. The Great Contraction of 2009 was the worst since The Great Depression. As you probably know, it took ten years and World II to help bring us out of that depression, yet, people like you expect President Obama to fix thirty years of mistakes in less than four years. If you bother to study the history of previous severe economic contractions, you'll discover it takes on average six or more years to recover from this type economic crisis. Therefore, your comment lacks merit!

    September 24, 2012 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  25. Bushy Walrus

    In the Mother Jones video, Romney refers to hispanics as"taco jockys"..

    September 24, 2012 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
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