The pressure is on President Obama to turn in a stellar performance in Tuesday night's rematch debate against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But Romney can't rest on his laurels from their first debate. When he faces the president at the town-hall debate at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island, Romney has to at least hold Obama to a draw if he wants to keep his momentum in the tight race. The town-hall format presents a different set of challenges for the debaters — and unlike Obama, Romney has held dozens of them over the past 18 months. Here are five things Romney can do to make the most of Round 2:
1. Sell himself as the candidate of change
Obama, like all incumbents, has a record to defend, says Jon Healey at The Los Angeles Times. "All Romney has to do, by contrast, is propose a credible change in direction." Talking about his five-point economic plan won't persuade Democrats to vote for him or convince economists "that Romney can make the numbers work." But that doesn't matter — what does is that "he's not proposing to stay the course set by Obama." That's what was so devastatingly effective about the first debate, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. "Romney successfully grabbed the mantle of change agent" from Obama, and voters want change.
2. Make a connection with the questioners
Fitting in arguments and zingers is important, says Paul Waldman at The American Prospect. But "probably the most important advice a candidate could get about the town-hall debate" is to connect with the undecided voters in the audience. The master at this was Bill Clinton — he has a preternatural ability to zero in on the questioner and feel her joy or pain. Neither Romney nor Obama can match Clinton here, but it's important to remember that town halls are at heart "a picture of the candidates among voters," and "viewers aren't just watching you talk about issues, they're watching you connect with individual voters who are there to represent them." If you don't connect, "it can be disastrous."
3. Pull out a game-changing wild card
Romney can win the election on Tuesday night if he busts out a surprise "Sister Souljah" moment, says Matt Miller at The Washington Post. Imagine if, faced with a question about his low tax rate, Romney says that upon careful consideration he now believes the wealthy should pay more and vows to raise rates on capital gains: "Millions of Democratic heads would explode across the country," and "millions of conservatives would shout in rage at their televisions," but "the million or so undecided voters who will decide this election in a handful of states... will say to themselves: This is a reasonable guy." And best of all for Romney, Obama probably wouldn't have a good response.
4. Keep his cool
Obama, of course, will probably have some surprises of his own, some attempt "to rattle Romney and force him into an error," says Richard S. Dunham at the San Francisco Chronicle. Romney "must remain disciplined and unflappable." The GOP nominee has generally been pretty good at not losing his cool, but not always: Remember Texas Gov. Rick Perry's jibes? Memo to Romney: "No $10,000 bets — even if Obama gets under his skin."
5. Don't change a thing
There's a strong case to be made that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, says The Los Angeles Times' Healey. That means "if you're Romney, the lesson for Tuesday's follow-up debate is simple: Be the same guy you were in the first one." After all, that one 90-minute performance changed the trajectory of the race in a manner unprecedented in modern politics. If Romney can once again be "forceful, energized, and clear, while striking the occasional safe note of moderation (e.g., 'Regulation is essential.') and parrying any attacks by Obama," there's no reason he can't have a repeat victory.