Romney looks for TV debates lifeline to revive his fortunes
With his popularity slipping and fewer than six weeks remaining until polling day to turn around his fortunes, US presidential challenger Mitt Romney is looking to talk his way back into the hearts of American voters.
The series of presidential debates, which begins this Wednesday, when the Republican nominee goes head-to-head with president Barack Obama in Colorado, will offer Mr Romney the chance to try to regain support lost since a secretly filmed video came to light earlier this month of him attacking the 47 per cent of Americans who pay no federal income tax.
While he is attempting to play down expectations about his own debate performance, repeatedly referring to his rival this week as “an eloquent, gifted speaker”, experts say Mr Romney has to deliver or say goodbye to his hopes for the White House.
“He needs a breakthrough moment,” said Peter Hanson, professor of political science at the University of Denver, where the first of three debates will take place.
“His campaign has stalled and Obama is building an advantage and unless something happens to change that Romney is on course to lose in November.”
Each of the debates will centre on a specific theme, with the opener focused on domestic policy and the economy.
Mr Romney, who trails the president by more than four points in the most recent average of opinion polls, said he expects Mr Obama to try to “mislead” the public over his record while in office.
Karl Rove, the former chief adviser to the last Republican president, George W Bush, said this gives him an advantage he must capitalise on.
“While Mr Romney must point out the president’s misrepresentations, he can’t take on the role of fact-checker-in-chief,” Mr Rove wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal column.
“He should deal comprehensively with several of Mr Obama’s untruths and, having done so, dismiss the rest as more of the same.”
Dr Hanson said he expected Mr Romney to talk about his business experience and plans for growth, while Mr Obama will claim to have stabilised the economy and will attack Mr Romney’s perceived taxation proposals.
“We’re not going to be hearing anything radically different than we have in the campaign to date, but for the candidates it’s a new stage to reach people that haven’t been listening so far,” he said.
Mr Obama’s camp, meanwhile, has been talking up Mr Romney, a tactic designed to maximise the plaudits if the debate goes well or minimise the damage if it does not.
“We expect Mitt Romney to be a prepared, disciplined and aggressive debater ... and it is natural for a challenger to gain simply from standing on the stage, toe-to-toe with the incumbent,” said David Axelrod, senior adviser to the Obama for America campaign.
“But in this debate, Americans will not be holding a scorecard to see who lands the most punches or who is quickest with the snappy sound-bite. They’ll be focused on who’s going to lay out the most credible plan to create good-paying jobs for the middle class and to restore economic security.”
In the 2008 series, Mr Obama, pictured left, was widely regarded as having won all three debates against Republican rival John McCain. Mr Romney, however, has more recent experience, having taken part in more than 20 debates this year when he was campaigning for his party’s nomination.
“The most likely outcome is stalemate but the candidates can be hurt by a gaffe,” Dr Hanson said.
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