Denver Presidential Debate: Performance Could Lose Obama the Election, Needs Better Prep

With the close of the first presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney will probably enjoy a little boost in the polls. He was authoritative, determined and fierce, which is not a side of Romney we’ve seen in awhile. This is what he needs right now, given that he was the dull professorial candidate from the primary debates this summer.

President Obama, by comparison, was far more lackluster, which is going to hurt him coming out of this debate. The Great Communicator that the president has been known as for the past few years was noticeably absent from the first debate.

But, there are still two more debates to go, so there is still time for there to be a turning around for both candidates. Romney needs to keep the pressure up in the next debate in order to preserve the momentum he gained Wednesday. The president, by contrast, needs to start getting fired up, he needs to be passionate and he needs to start nailing Romney to the wall with some of the vagueness of Romney’s plans.

If the Obama campaign’s plan was to “Talk to the people” rather than Romney, then they need to change that plan pronto. Debates are not stump speeches (at least they are not designed to be stump speeches): they are an arena. You do not win a debate by acting professorial and timid, you win debates by being combative and aggressive, which is what Romney was doing.

Specifically, the Obama campaign needs to get Obama a new debate prep partner (I hear Bill Clinton may be available). Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is not who the president needs to practice with. Kerry is too dry, too academic and (clearly) not an effective stand-in for Mitt Romney. Instead, the president should debate his running mate. If there is anything that Joe Biden does well, it is getting fired up. And the president desperately needs to learn how to counter someone who is fired up, because that was his big weakness.

He also needs to be more aggressive going after Romney’s lack of specificity on how exactly he is going to solve the economy. Romney mentioned his plan for kick-starting the economy on multiple occasions, but never offered any concrete examples of how he would do this. He mentioned cutting taxes, rolling back regulations and adding 12 million new jobs — which is mostly what his latest round of ads has been saying.

The president has to hammer Romney with the question of what specifically he wants to do. Cut taxes on who? Which regulations are you going to roll back? Which parts of the budget are you going to cut? And where exactly is he going to conjure 12 million jobs from?

There was a prime opportunity to do just that early on in the debate, when Romney apologized to PBS’s Jim Lehrer and stated that he would cut funding for PBS. The president sort of let this roll by unchallenged. He should have jumped all over that statement.

Really, Mr. Romney? With this giant deficit that you are so concerned about, that’s really what you’d have on the chopping block? PBS? The federal deficit is currently riding around $1 trillion. You are going to cut PBS, which receives roughly $451 million, from the federal budget? That is only about 0.01 percent of the current $3.7 trillion budget.

Compare that with the Romney Campaign’s promise to increase the military budget and continue the wars in the Middle East. How exactly does this cut the deficit? How exactly does this balance our budget? These are things that the president needs to start going after in the next two debates, because Romney is going to have a hard time answering that question.

President Obama’s supporters are not getting much in the way of victory right now, which will hurt them in the long run. But it is not over yet, there are still two more debates to go and the Vice Presidential Debate. There is still time for the Obama campaign to recover and regroup before the next round of debating begins.

It is time to regroup, Mr. President, you have got to perform better in these debates.

Editorial Assistant Caleb Hendrich is a senior political science and journalism double major. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.