Don’t Underestimate Romney

by Stuart Shapiro

It has been a great couple of weeks for the president and the Democrats.  The hope is that it continues with tonight’s debate.  However, Governor Romney has several important advantages that should not be overlooked.

  • He gains stature just by being on stage with the President.  Challengers do very well in the first debate (see Carter 1976, Reagan 1980, Clinton 1992, Kerry 2004 and even Mondale 1984).
  • Romney is a good debater.  With the exception of the $10,000 bet he coasted through the primary debates.  He also was quite good in his debates in Massachusetts.
  • Tonight’s debate is the best format for Romney.  It will focus on the economy, and it is not a town hall format.

That said, James Fallows, who documented Romney’s debating skills here, points out one big weakness.

When the subject is one he’s prepared for, he rarely falters. When it’s not, or when an exchange goes on longer or in a different direction than expected, many of his ad-libbed responses turn out to be mistakes (“I’ll bet you $10,000!”). Thus the Romney team has the impossible challenge of trying to imagine every question or attack line that might come up in debates with Obama, while the Obama team tries to imagine what Romney’s might have missed. This kind of chess game is always part of debate preparation, but it is unusually important this year, because the gap between Romney at his best and at his worst is so wide.

President Obama needs to surprise Romney tonight or get him angry.  Otherwise, my guess is that Romney holds his own and the polls move slightly toward him.  Coupled with some fading of the convention/47% bounce, the narrative for the next week might be about a tightening race.

About Stuart Shapiro

Stuart Shapiro Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels. Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

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