From the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, the following contest, sanctioned by the Commission on Presidential Debates, is scheduled to last 90 minutes. The referee is Jim Lehrer, the executive editor of the PBS news program "Newshour."
Fighting out of the blue corner, wearing the boring $1,900 two-button navy suit with the blue tie and an American flag lapel pin is the challenger. This 65-year-old stands 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs in at 195 pounds. From Belmont, Massachusetts, by way of Detroit, let's hear it for Mitt Romney.
Fighting out of the red corner, wearing the boring $1,900 two-button grey suit with the red tie and an American flag lapel pin is the incumbent. Weighing in at a willowy 170 pounds, the 51-year-old measures 6 feet, 1 inch tall. Hailing from Chicago, by way of Honolulu and Indonesia, but not Kenya (he asked me to say that), give it up for Barack Obama.
Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to rumble!
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With apologies to ring announcer Michael Buffer, tonight's presidential debate feels like a heavyweight championship bout. There's a lot of anticipation and plenty on the line. Both candidates have been training hard to make sure they're at their best.
Unfortunately for Republicans, polling and Electoral College predictions indicate that Mitt Romney may already be on the ropes.
This debate, which will focus on domestic policy, may offer Romney his best chance at gaining ground and putting himself in a position to win between now and Election Day.
In order to have a shot at turning the tide of the election, Romney needs to accomplish the following five things in tonight's debate:
1) Look like a human being: While Romney will never come across as a guy most Americans would want to have a beer with, during the GOP debates there were glimpses that he might actually have a personality and a sense of humor. (Of course, nothing makes you seem like the life of the party quite like standing next to Mr. Sweater Vest himself, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich - a guy who seems bored and disgusted with himself and the words coming out of his mouth when he speaks.) If Romney can smile a bit and have a laugh or two at his own expense - and a few at Obama's, as well - he may be able to show a softer, more likeable side that is still missing in the eyes of many voters.
2) Harp on the economy: No matter how much of our country's economic woes the president wants to pin on George W. Bush, the fact remains that Obama pledged to improve the economy and he hasn't. The stimulus didn't work. Obama's spending and government programs have not been effective. Most Americans aren't better off than they were four years ago. If Romney can finally succeed in making voters realize that Obama deserves a great deal of blame for his handling of the economy, the former Massachusetts governor can win the election.
3) Be aggressive: The president - any president - comes into a debate with the advantage of being revered for the office he holds, even by people who don't like him. Romney must immediately establish that he's not in awe of Obama. The easiest way to do that is to hold Obama accountable for his inaccuracies and blunders. From the president's refusal to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, to the Obama campaign's failure to condemn the factually incorrect ads that linked Mitt Romney to a woman's death, Romney has plenty of reasons to call the president on the carpet.
4) Fight against big government: By now, it's pretty obvious that Mitt Romney is no free market, limited government type. But Romney must get those folks out to vote in order to win states like Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire. He has to use this debate on domestic policy to create a narrative of government versus the people. Obama obviously thinks that government is almost always the solution, but many Americans see government as our biggest problem. If Romney can capitalize on that divide by invoking the Reagan rhetoric of reducing the government's power and responsibility and restoring that power and responsibility in individuals and families, it would certainly energize voters.
5) Clarify the vision for America: Romney has an "All of the Above" energy plan. Obama has an "All of the Above" energy plan. Romney has a socialist-style government-run healthcare scheme named after him. Obama has a socialist-style government-run healthcare scheme named after him. Even though Romney has been running nonstop for president since 2006, most voters can't articulate what his policies would look like or how they would differ from Obama's. In this debate, he has to lay out a handful of simple, understandable policy proposals that differentiate his vision for America from Obama's.
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It's unthinkable that, just 34 days before the election, Romney still has so much work to do in terms of defining himself and his positions. The good news for Republicans is that, if he is successful in these five areas during the debate, Romney can make up for most of his perceived flaws in just one night.
However, if Romney fails to achieve these five objectives during the debate, Obama will be in a position to deliver a knockout blow to Romney's chances of becoming president.