5 Things to Watch for in Tonight's Presidential Debate
1. Does Obama's sales pitch reignite his old message of "hope" and "change?" It was his message of "hope" and "change" that fueled his first election. It worked, as America had grown eager to break the direction it was headed under the leadership of President George W. Bush. And although the Illinois Senator was virtually unknown at the time, they heard loud and clear his battle call for "change." Now, almost four years later, far too many feel that not much has changed at all, and in some cases, has worsened. Will President Barack Obama be able to reignite his original flame? Will he be able to recycle his old message that change-for-the-better is still on its way?
2. Can Romney distance himself far enough from his "47 percent of the population" comment? In mid-September, a secretly filmed video revealed a candid conversation between Romney and a team of his wealthy donors in which he disparaged Barack Obama voters – 47 percent of the American population – as people who do not pay income tax. He painted them all as a population that chooses to leach off the government and wrote them off inconsequential to aiding his presidential pursuit. Now he must face the music of his own words. Will he be able to convince swing voters that he was "just kidding," or worse, "just lying," and that, in fact, he truly cares about the needs of all Americans, despite their socio-economic status?
3. Does Obama's speech give a sense that he really has what it takes to be a communicator-in-chief this time around? Few will argue that the president has the brains to do the job. But does he have the chops? Concern and doubt was raised within his own party over his ability to communicate the right messages to adequately invigorate his base. And this was further punctuated during last month's Democratic Convention, when President Bill Clinton gave a speech that drew a cogent and miraculously clear picture of the problems of the past, the challenges of the present and a forecast of the road ahead. In the three and a half years of his presidency, Obama struggled with being able to tell this very same story that Clinton managed with ease. Will tonight's speech reflect this same level of cloudiness, or will he finally begin to shed light on how he plans to forge a clear path ahead?
4. Who will do the best job in laying out a plan for an improved economy? Will it be the POTUS or Mitt Romney? Will Obama be able to explain a fresh, new start that everyone can get behind, or will his message sound long-winded, convoluted and too much like old-hat? Will Mitt Romney finally have a solid plan and facts to lay out, or will his playbook sound like he's been spoon-fed talking points around something of which he has no real clue? But most important, if President Obama's plan appears sound, will it be hefty enough to convince swing voters to help elect him the majority Democratic Congress he needs to push a working plan through?
5. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe: Will it be the "Republican Robot" or the "Liberal Softie?" Robots can be programmed, de-programmed and re-programmed as needed, meaning they will operate efficiently as told, without conscience; Softies think things through deeply, but sometimes over-think and miss the boat entirely. Robots fall in line. Softies are easily swayed. Robots are impenetrable. Softies feel pain… Sometimes in an election, it's not so much about what either candidate says, but it's about what a voter feels in his or her gut: Sometimes, in the end, the best you can do is place place your bet, cross your fingers, and hope and pray your "gut" wins.
*The presidential debate will air tonight, at 9:00 p.m., on most major news networks. CNN's pre-coverage will begin at 7:00 p.m.