Along with the first presidential debate slated for Wednesday night at the University of Denver comes an almost-amusing tradition unmatched at any other point in the campaign: The two candidates’ campaign staffs gush over their respective opponent.
“President Obama is a uniquely gifted speaker, and is widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history.” That comes from Beth Myers, one of Mitt Romney’s top advisers.
“Gov. Romney is one of the best debaters I’ve seen.” So says Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager.
Even President Obama joined the praise earlier this week from a resort in Las Vegas, where he was prepping for Wednesday’s debate. “Gov. Romney, he’s a good debater,” said the president. “I’m just OK.”
It’s a pre-debate tradition that each camp uses to lower the expectations for its own candidate and raise the bar for the other.
If that’s true, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may have a double-edged advantage: A Pew Research Poll found that 51 percent of respondents expect Obama to win tonight’s debate. Some 29 percent said they think Romney will win.
That’s the kind of advantage Romney may wish he didn’t have just 36 days before the presidential election, but it could provide an opportunity he desperately needs: woo undecided voters and surprise everyone else.
It’s a complicated task given Obama’s lead in the polls and higher marks for likability among surveyed voters. But Romney could turn a complicated moment into a simple one by pursuing a bold strategy: Communicate conservative ideas in a way that’s clear and positive.
Even GOP supporters have pounded the Romney campaign for its fumbling in communicating specific plans on critical issues like tax reform or entitlement spending.
It’s not that they don’t have ideas. Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, drafted a federal budget plan last year that drew praise from a host of fiscal conservatives.
But when Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Ryan this weekend to explain Romney’s plan to give Americans a 20 percent tax break without growing the deficit, Ryan replied, “It would take me too long to go through all the math.”
The line fed straight into a growing chorus of criticism from both the Obama campaign and some conservatives: It’s time to show some of the math.
While the Romney camp may be afraid to oversimplify an admittedly complex issue, the Obama campaign doesn’t share the same fear. Democrats have repeated a mantra that Republicans haven’t effectively thwarted: Romney will cut taxes on the rich and raise them on the middle class.
If Romney does nothing else Wednesday night, he must address this claim. In a flagging economy with a worried middle class, it may be the ticket that sends the candidates in one of two directions: Romney back to Massachusetts or Obama back to Chicago.