I have to hand it to Team Romney. I didn't think they had a cohesive plan. The first debate fully illuminated the small steps they had taken behind the scenes to build momentum. While many on the right were giddy with the whipsaw results from the outcome of the first debate I would wager that few anticipated the size, velocity, and residual wave of positive sentiment for Romney.
Romney is leveling the playing field in the swing states. At the time of this writing the updated forecasting from professors Kenneth Bickers and Michael Burry of the University of Colorado predict Romney in a landslide. You can see their work here (and they haven't been wrong on an election yet):
On the Obama side we have Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog who has done well with his polling and predicting in the previous two cycles. See his work here.
The general election polls are trending for Romney but his path to the 270 Electoral votes is difficult. See Real Clear Politics here:
The polls are what they are. They are useful to gauge momentum. In the end the only thing that matters is what happens on November 6th.
So this third and final debate is upon us. Foreign policy is the topic. It seems the pundits are advancing an agenda that Obama is stronger in this area. Perhaps on the larger scale of specifics and details he is. However, the Benghazi murders and the reaction from the Obama administration will force discourse on this sorrowful event. Certainly the keyboard warriors of the blogging world have been all over this. As much as those on the right grouse about the media protecting this administration I would submit that there has been a steady rhythm of media coverage this past week. As there should be. Americans died and the public is still searching for answers. I would hope both Romney and Obama tread honestly, lightly, and very respectfully.
Obama will try to paint Romney as a foreign affairs lightweight and a war
mongering neo-con. Making efforts to label him as a shoot first ask questions later cowboy whose ideas are worn and no longer pragmatic in our current time. Romney will be less dramatic but continue his winning approach of systematically drawing attention to Obama's deficient efforts. Beyond the exchange on the Benghazi tragedy, we should anticipate a general discussion about Russia, China, and the Middle East. Both candidates will stray and weave their conversations to their checklist items (whether topical or not) in an effort to poke their opponent in the eye.
Barring some incredible mental face plant by Romney his current momentum will not be stunted. There are plenty of topics to litigate on Obama's record but Romney doesn't need to dazzle. He just needs to put in a businessman like effort. Obama has a larger challenge. He has multiple problems to defend and his debate partner is not interested in clearing the path for him. Obama's straw man arguments have worn thin and his record on both domestic and foreign policy will be difficult to safeguard. He is in the unenviable position of needing a massive win in this debate. He knows the likelihood of spontaneity from his opponent is implausible. He will need to push.
What I would like to see from both candidates to wrap up this debate series is some clear and delineating talk about choices with a sprinkling of nostalgia. An excellent binder of people is old fashioned pride in America. Like it or not, one of the dynamics in our country is that of a pluralistic democracy. This focuses groups against each other in an effort to rise and gain meaningful status. This is where Obama lives. His interest in social justice, redistribution, and societal structuring should be brought into this debate by Romney and sharply contrasted with the ideas of self reliance, less governmental intervention, and freedom to achieve through hard work. After all, the American Dream is not about the expansion of government or programs to take from one group and give to another. It sounds a bit syrupy, but what lured millions to our shores was the opportunity to escape governmental oppression and build a better life through efforts from their own minds and hands.
Closing thoughts: In a few short weeks we will settle the argument of substance vs. decadence. Will this election be won due to economic conditions such as unemployment, health of the economy, and consumer confidence? Or will we be entering the crash test dummy portion of our ride? Lastly, as each debate passes Jim Lehrer is looking more and more like a genius moderator.