Before the first presidential debate, many political analysts predicted that the event was “make or break” for Mitt Romney, who trailed in practically every poll. However, as the president and his challenger prepare to face off tonight in a “town hall” style debate at Hofstra University, it seems it’s now Obama who is in a must-perform situation.
He’s lost his huge lead among likely female voters, causing him to fall behind in various swing states–even Pennsylvania, which overwhelmingly supported Obama just weeks ago, is now in play. Romney has also increased an already huge lead among rural communities. And Obama’s supporters are starting to worry that the great campaigner they saw in 2008 has lost his touch. Among them, the headline of the Huffington Post’s debate coverage reads “Don’t Blow It.” (Now there’s an inspiring pep talk for you, Mr. President.)
Based on this dramatic shift in momentum, experts say Obama will–and must–change his debate strategy. Reportedly he will come out more aggressive in tone, style and delivery. He will “show life,” as one pundit put it, which would be a stark contrast to his calm, measured style in the first debate. So, perhaps the president will be more assertive, but he has a fine line to tread. His rather tired delivery during the last debate bored many moderates; but a snarky Joe Biden-style delivery may appear unpresidential to some voters.
As an additional challenge, tonight’s “town hall” format doesn’t lend itself well to a candidate who needs to appear energetic. We won’t likely see the feisty back-and-forths that occurred throughout the vice presidential debate, or the fiery “gotchas” we saw in the first presidential debate (at least from Romney). Obama must therefore strategize wisely to ensure his passion for his administration’s platform will shine through. He must convince the critics who asked, “Does this guy even really want the job?” after debate No. 1 that yes, he does want the job, and he is the best man for it.
Otherwise, with so little time left before Election Day and so few undecided voters left, Romney will ride his new-found momentum all the way to the Oval Office.