So, the first of four debates between the Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan campaigns begin today. There’s going to be one per week throughout October.
Each debate touches on different aspects of running the country, and the second debate will be between the candidates’ running mates for vice president.
Which means: The spin machines are cranking up, and it’s about to get confusing up in here. Here’s a list of things you should know as we get deeper into October.
1) Status Of The Polls Right Now
As it stands now, Romney is in a bit of a pickle. By accounts from many, many political experts, Ohio is a must win battleground state for him. The options for victory narrow considerably if Ohio is taken off the table for the Republican candidate.
Overall, take a look at RealClearPolitics’ Electoral College Map. The reason I keep hammering away at you guys to go to RCP is their ability to take bias out of their polling — because they don’t just pick one poll, they average all polls. So polls that have been accused to be conservatively-biased (Rasmussen) are averaged out against polls that have been accused to be liberally-biased (PPP).
As it stands now, there are still plenty of tossup states, but Obama is standing at 269 electoral votes, with Romney at 181. Keep in mind that when RCP declares a state is “leaning” in a candidate’s direction, it means that all polls, averaged out, come to a result outside the margin of error.
On the map above, as a nice rule of thumb: The darker the shade of the color, the stronger the support for that candidate. (Obama is blue, Romney is red.)
It is very possible for Romney to turn the tide on Ohio, Wisconsin and others. After the debates, major battleground states that’ve been inundated with campaign ads — and in this election, they may already be over it — will be fatigued and probably have made up their minds by now.
2) Candidate Expectations
It’s always funny when it’s a close race – the candidates’ respective campaigns just can’t help but lower every expectation that you could possibly have in a politician.
The Daily Show pretty much summed it up perfectly — campaign staffers and surrogates are making it seem like their candidates are barely functional man-children who would get a big victory if they could get through the debates while remaining upright.
Don’t get lost in the pre-debate spin: The truth is they’ve been prepping for weeks, months, possibly even years. They are at the top of their games, and they’re going to square off.
3) Ratings Expectations
Not so much of “expectations” as it is just fact. Whether it’s a TV show, sports season, or a YouTube video, the longer a thing is watched by a group of people, the fewer people will be watching by the end.
Translation: The first debate is going to have the largest ratings. This debate is huge and they know it — they’re going to be talking directly and immediately to the largest segment of their voters than ever before. Both camps will “claim” victory in the first debate, because that’s what you do when you’re a politician.
But if the American people believe that Obama won — particularly amongst undecideds or less-than-convinced supporters/opponents — his lead in the polls will grow substantially enough to make the next debate that much tougher for Romney to overcome. However, if they think Romney won, the race can very easily shift in his favor.
4) First Debate: Economy, Economy and Also Economy
The first debate will have six parts – the first three of which are dedicated to talking about the economy. Get ready to have a lot of numbers thrown at you. Not all of them will be true. Some will be wrong. Some will be technically right, but cherry-picked. But some numbers will be correct.
Don’t take any statistic at face value.
Big parts of the discussion will be job creation, where Obama will tout his 4.5 million private-sector job increase in 29 months (as Bill Clinton made stick at the DNC), and also where Romney will have to show his acumen as a businessman and applying it to the sluggishly recovering economy.
5) First Debate: Health Care
After economy is the health care discussion. You pretty much have two lines of attack. Obama’s going to attack Romney’s plan for Medicare, and Romney’s going to attack the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
Obama Response To Obamacare Attack: Romneycare worked fine and now Romney’s backing off on it.
Romney Response To Medicare Attack: Obamacare’s a failure and Medicare’s running out of money – someone’s gotta step up and fix it.
It’ll all cascade down. It’s going to be very finger pointing-y.
6) First Debate: Fundraising, Too
The fourth and fifth sections of the Denver debate will be about the role of government, and then governing style.
It’s big government vs. small government, but this part of the debate can sway a lot of dollars. Right now larger donors are shifting away from Romney and going to Republican contests at the state level. Romney has an opportunity to bring that money back in. Obama also has the opportunity to bring in more donors from his grassroots campaigns across the battleground states.
7) Second Debate (First/Only VP Candidate Debate): Veep Choices Are The X-Factor
Really, not in the sense that they can save a campaign — just as Palin’s boost to McCain’s campaign was temporary, so too, has Paul’s boost to Romney faded — but they can certainly tank a campaign. With only one vice presidential debate, they’ll be hitting a broad range of topics, which is also a broad range of weaknesses that can create pitfalls for either candidate.
Expect this debate to be very vague, but if Biden starts going too off-the-cuff, he could be in danger of scaring off independents and undecideds. Same goes for Paul, too, but he hasn’t had the penchant for obvious gaffes that Biden’s history is riddled with.
8) Third Debate: Domestic And Foreign Policy
Because of the fourth debate, which is all foreign policy, expect to have a lot of social issues pop up here. Birth control/contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration — all on the table. Ostensibly, undecided voters are to be providing questions in the town hall format, but the likelihood of these not being vetted is about the same as me coming home with Natalie Portman.
With the Supreme Court now in session and taking on potentially explosive cases on the domestic front, we may see the candidates deflecting responsibility and imploring the Court to take on particular cases that appeal to their base.
9) Fourth Debate: Foreign Policy
The Arab Spring burns on. China’s having labor issues. Al-Qaeda is still a thing.
Along with those issues, the defense budget would probably be brought up. Romney has indicated that he would want to increase the defense budget by $100 Billion, a number that will certainly come up in this final debate.
There will definitely be talk about the killing of Bin Laden. Obama will try to own it. Romney will try to discredit it. Neither person will want to utter the name “Bush.”
Question, Voting Public: Are you undecided? If so, are the debates going to help make your final choice?