Tonight’s debate will be acclaimed by both sides as a victory, and that’s a loss for the president. Mr Obama will show up for tonight’s debate, an improvement over the last one where he largely phoned it in, and that will probably yield a draw (hence, both sides being able to cite their guy’s highlights, claiming victory). But that’s not enough to stop the bleeding. The president needs a decisive win, and he won’t get that tonight.
This “town hall” is the most contrived of the three debates – the questions have been pre-submitted to the moderator, who has total control of who asks what question – and the least confrontational – the candidates will be responding to audience questions, not directly to each other (although the second candidate to answer will have a chance to respond after the other has spoken). Ms Crowley will have a chance to follow-up, and the fairness of those questions will have much to do with public perception of the outcome (Ms Crowley is a CNN correspondent that has been openly critical of the Romney-Ryan ticket). She is a competent journalist that is capable of being fair, the question is, will she be?
I don’t look for any news to be made tonight, either on style or substance, and again, that’s a loss for the president. This will be more dueling campaign stops than actual debate – both guys are very good face-to-face with people, and I look for both to do well.
The real risk for both candidates will be the Boca Raton debate on foreign policy, October 22. It’s uncharted territory for Mr Romney, and a fresh embarrassment for the president. It could be shark-infested for both of them.