Mitt Romney went into the October 3 debate down in the all the national polls. He was behind in every swing state save North Carolina. After the shellacking he gave the president, he’s now even or ahead nationwide and within striking distance of the lead in most swing states. And the biggest shocker: among women with whom he was down by a seemingly insurmountable 18 points, he has pulled even with the president.
Consequently, it is a very different dynamic going into tonight’s debate. The attention and pressure are now squarely on the president, who, all agree, needs a grand slam. No one is looking for a repeat: Obama will surely show up this time, and he will utilize those tactics that propelled him to that now-evaporated lead.
He will try, as he has throughout the campaign–successfully until two weeks ago–to define Romney as anti-middle class, anti-immigrant, and definitely anti-women. Per the campaign strategy, Obama will not offer a defense of the last four years, nor a compelling vision of what he sees in next four. Gone are the days of hope and change. Instead he will offer seek and destroy.
Even in a town hall setting, expect Obama to hammer Romney hard on the “47 percent;” portray him as a political opportunist in the debacle in Libya; and with particular vigor, he will say Mitt Romney is spearheading the contrived “war on women.”
Obama is fully aware that he lost his standing in the polls when he allowed Romney to go on offense, and when the president let up his class warfare, division-oriented attacks.
Romney himself is under considerable pressure to meet whatever intensified attacks Obama lobs tonight. The challenger is still behind overall even if momentum has shifted. He has to keep the momentum moving in his direction–keep his base inspired, Obama’s demoralized, while continuing to define himself to voters looking for a change, but unconvinced after months of distortions, that Romney can be trusted.
He gained that momentum not by pulling any punches, but by being aggressive, attacking the president’s record, but also by articulating clearly and compellingly the different philosophies and plans of the two candidates.
One outcome of this debate would be disastrous for Romney: a pivot back to defense. It is Obama’s goal to put him there–right where he was in the weeks leading up to the debate.
Romney needs focused approach
Romney has to be focused: hammer away at the economic disaster of the last four years, the big-government philosophy that got us there, and the increasingly obvious fact that Obama has no plan for the next four. He has to show that the president isn’t serious about another term.
Romney should ask voters to consider whether Obama has mounted a defense of his own agenda or whether he instead his entire strategy is to vilify Romney–not for differences in philosophy or approach, but by suggesting that Romney is flawed as a human being.
Romney can’t blink, cannot be put back on his heals as Obama will try. He has to stick with his two-fold approach: Attack the record and philosophy of Obama, and clearly articulate his ideas–just as he did at the last debate, but this time in the face of a very aggressive, caffeinated Barack Obama.
Remember, Obama was the “master of agitation” when he was a community organizer. He knows exactly what he is doing and has been doing it for four years at the national level: identify the enemy, then stoke the flames of discontent. Get people’s attention focused on their anger and animosity, and off of your plans. Then ram it through.
Romney, on the other hand, is on a roll with women. His ad, released shortly before the first debate, while he looked directly at the camera, was a critical first step in introducing women to the real Mitt Romney–not nearly so scary as the Neanderthal he was painted to be at the DNC.
Then Romney’s debate performance wowed men and women. Those same polls show that women are increasingly concerned about the economy, specifically the debt and jobs–a far cry from Team Obama’s (a la Stephanie Cutter) assertion that women don’t care about what’s happened over the last four years. On these points, Romney has the upper hand.
The advantage is Romney’s tonight, but he cannot allow himself to be baited by a combative, fear-mongering President Obama. When Romney sticks to philosophy and facts, ideas and a strong American vision for the future, he wins. Last time he was given a virtual practice round with an empty chair. We’ll see what happens when Obama shows up.
Kate Obenshain is the author of Divider-In-Chief: The Fraud of Hope and Change, a new book published by Regnery Publishing, which also owns Human Events.