President Obama blew a significant polling lead with his widely panned, lackluster performance in the first debate. And after the bump Mitt Romney got in the polls from his clear win in the first clash, both candidates have hunkered down for intense preparations for the second debate, which takes place at Hofstra University in New York on Tuesday. Most of the pressure is on Obama, as political analysts generally agree that he has to nail this town-hall-style showdown to start regaining lost support. Obama has been working with top advisers in a three-day debate camp in Virginia. "It is going great," an optimistic Obama said Sunday. What will he have to do to win round two in the series of three debates? Here, five ways he can take back the momentum:
1. Obama has to avoid the many mistakes of his first debate
The president's first task is making sure he doesn't "repeat the mistakes he made at his first debate" a week and a half ago, says Helene Cooper at The New York Times. In that encounter, Obama "stood by passively as an aggressive Romney dominated him" and took over the momentum. Obama's aides are making sure he goes into the next clash with more practice — and energy. Vice President Joe Biden showed the way in his debate by forcefully countering the assertions of Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, by grinning in disbelief, and twice calling Ryan's claims "malarkey." Obama just has to figure out his own way "to accuse Romney of twisting the facts without seeming rude."
2. He should resist the temptation to renew his Bain attack
"Obama reportedly is also planning an assault on Romney's Bain background," says William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, "but I predict a backfire." Romney has had plenty of time to craft a response to the tired attacks of his career as a financier at Bain. The debate will offer Romney the chance to explain his side of the story "without media filter," allowing him to "frame the issue as one of the private sector versus 'trickle down government.'" That will give the Republican the added advantage of putting Solyndra, Obama's green-pork boondoggle, in focus. Yes, but Obama "knows through experience that Romney's weak spot with middle class voters is Bain," says Rick Moran at PJ Tattler. Romney is going to have to defend his business career, so Obama had "better come up with some zingers for Tuesday night."
3. He has to crank up the energy
Forget "No Drama Obama," says Julianna Goldman at Bloomberg. The president needs some serious drama this time. His "dispassionate first debate performance" did not look good next to Romney's "fresh burst of enthusiasm." Early voting has already started and the Nov. 6 election is just three weeks away. "Obama must go on the offensive," with a confident, enthusiastic performance "laying out clear contrasts with Romney and making the kind of personal connection with voters that helped him win four years ago."
4. He needs to learn from Biden's success
Obama can't "duplicate Uncle Joe," says Alec MacGillis at The New Republic, and he shouldn't try. He can, however, take pointers from his sidekick. He should forget about the size of the cuts in Romney's tax plan, and focus on its details — it curtails mortgage-interest deductions for the middle-class while protecting hedge-funder loopholes that give Romney such low tax rates. Also, Obama inexplicably said he and Romney have the same views on Social Security. He needs to point out, as Biden did, that Republicans, especially Ryan, have argued we should privatize it. Biden's biggest score came when he called out Ryan as a hypocrite, for criticizing the stimulus while writing letters requesting stimulus funds to create growth and jobs. "Ryan looked like he'd had the wind knocked out of him."
5. Obama needs to defend his record the way Bill Clinton did
The president's main job is "to offer the voters a narrative that is true, compelling and appealing about the successes" of his first term, says Brent Budowsky at The Huffington Post. Unemployment has fallen below 8 percent, the housing industry is on the mend. One of the reasons Obama got such a bounce after the Democratic convention was "the brilliant and historically important speech of former President Clinton," who "made a powerful and credible case for the successes that Obama has achieved in first avoiding a new global depression after the disaster he inherited from his Republican predecessor," and then in "initiating the economic recovery that has begun to gather steam." Obama has to defend his record as Clinton did, with "confidence, optimism, and vigor." He also needs to "state that Republicans bear major responsibility for the problems he inherited." If he can do that, he can win this debate.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Here comes the Pentagon's newest space plane
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Extreme haunted houses: Inside Halloween's most terrifying new trend
- 10 things you need to know today: October 25, 2014
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Let us now praise Billy Joel
- How 1,000-year lifespans could remake the economy
- What is Molly? Everything you need to know about the party drug
Subscribe to the Week