DENVER, CO - Greetings from the Mile High City and the campus of the University of Denver, where President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will square off in their first of three televised debates. Despite trading rhetorical blows and attack ads for many months, the two men are relative strangers; prior to this evening's high-stakes discussion, Obama and Romney have only met on three occasions. That will all change at 9pm ET, when the two men will lock horns for a 90 minute nationally-televised debate. Tonight's theme is domestic issues, and will be moderated by long-time PBS Newshour anchor Jim Lehrer. Though many in the chattering class agree that debates rarely matter, several new polls indicate that a relatively small, but significant, percentage of 2012 voters say the televised confrontations will weigh heavily on their eventual decision at the polls. Rasmussen:
Just seventeen percent view debates as very important to how they will vote. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of Likely U.S. Voters say they are likely to watch the presidential debates this year, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. That includes 65% who are Very Likely to watch, but that’s down nine points from 74% in September 2008. Still, just 12% say they are not very or Not At All Likely to watch the debates this year
Both candidates have been holed up for intensive debate preparation over the last few days -- Obama in Nevada and Romney here in Colorado. Senator John Kerry played the role of Romney in the incumbents debate simulations; Senator Rob Portman depicted Obama during Romney's trial runs. Moments ago, CNN reported that the Obama campaign has already decided that Mitt Romney will not give enough specifics during tonight's conversation, a line of attack they're preparing to unleash in the post-debate spin room. If Romney is even remotely light on specifics -- on his tax plan, for instance -- expect the O spin machine to churn away with the drumbeat that the Republican is avoiding tough issues. (Pretty shameless from the team backing the guy who's ducked every tough spending and entitlement issue over the last four years). Then again, if Romney gets wonky and specific, look for the Obama campaign to demagogue the hell out of whatever he presents. By the way, when it comes to tax policy and the middle class, remember this. Most challenging for Romney is the likelihood that the Obama party line will be widely parroted in the media. For a blueprint of how this phenomenon works, recall the media response to Paul Ryan's RNC speech. The good news for Romney is that public expectations are much higher for Obama, whom most voters expect to get the better of these exchanges. The majority of voters have not seen the GOP nominee in action yet, despite his approximately 800 appearances in Republican primary debates. Speaking of which, Romney improved significantly during those contests, clearly winning a few key ones. Which Mitt Romney will show up tonight? American Crossroads has a pretty good idea of which Barack Obama viewers will see, and have constructed a pre-buttal video. This is simply excellent:
Thorough and effective in substance and presentation. I particularly enjoyed the piece at the end of Obama warning that candidates with bad records result to personal attacks. Just perfect. But remember, the Obama campaign takes fact-checking "very very seriously." Tonight is big. Tens of millions of viewers, including many of those crucial and few undecideds, will tune in. The first debate sets the tone, and Mitt Romney needs to seize that opportunity. We'll have live reaction throughout the showdown, and full post-game analysis afterwards. Pop the popcorn and get comfortable. The most important stretch of the 2012 election begins in mere moments.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography