First presidential debate is tonight: Obama, Romney square off -
Published Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 8:48 pm
First presidential debate is tonight: Obama, Romney square off


When: 8 tonight

Where: University of Denver

Topic: Domestic affairs

Moderator: Jim Lehrer, PBS "NewsHour"

TV coverage: The debate will air on the ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and MSNBC networks and on PBS stations



In this Oct. 28, 1980, file photo, President Jimmy Carter, left, and Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan shake hands in Cleveland, Ohio, before debating.

IT ISN'T OVER: A tanned and fit John F. Kennedy used the nation's first televised debate to catapult ahead of antsy, sweaty Richard Nixon in 1960. Ronald Reagan overtook Jimmy Carter in 1980 after he told the incumbent, “There you go again.”

MISTAKES MATTER: Remember Al Gore's sighs or Gerald Ford's, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe?” Romney has been error prone, from his $10,000 bet to the 47%. Presidential missteps can carry more weight. The lasting memory of a 1992 debate was President George H.W. Bush looking at his watch.

DRAMA: Both sides know the other's favorite lines. Each is prepared to pounce, ala Lloyd Bentsen in Omaha vs. Dan Quayle in Omaha in a 1988 vice presidential debate: “Senator ... I knew Jack Kennedy ... you are no Jack Kennedy.”

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, left, and Sen. Dan Quayle shake hands in an Oct. 6,1988, file photo, after their vice presidential debate in Omaha.


IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID: Romney, like the last challenger to beat a president, wants this election to be about the economy. Tonight's focus is the economy, so Romney will be on offense.

THE OTHER HALF: Romney's statement about 47 percent of Americans not paying taxes, being dependent on government and considering themselves victims has dominated the past two weeks. How he responds is one of tonight's keys.

PERCEPTION MAY NOT BE REALITY: Obama's reputation as a Teleprompted orator doesn't always translate into great debate answers. Romney's reputation as a stiff campaigner belies the strength he showed during the primary debates. He was superb when he had to be.

IMAGE IS EVERYTHING: Body language, tone and likability are important. Can Romney come off as a regular guy and not a robot? Will Obama's demeanor come across as condescending or disconnected?


THE UNDECIDEDS: An ad-weary public tunes into politics for only a short time. Watch for candidates to work toward still-persuadable voters by tempering positions taken during the primary. The first debate typically ropes in about 50 million people, more than the convention speeches.

WHO NEEDS IT MORE? Romney. If he has a poor showing, President Obama can run out the clock. Romney has to prove he belongs on stage, has to pass the eyeball test. As Ronald Reagan proved in 1984, a poor first-debate showing for the president is rarely fatal.


Obama comes off as aloof, distant or dismissive, if he makes excuses and if Romney can sell himself and his plans as a prescription for turning around the economy.


Romney comes across as stiff, unfeeling or the guy who laid you off, if Obama can sell himself as a man of the people attuned to their concerns and to his own shortcomings as president.

— Compiled by World-Herald staff writers C. David Kotok and Aaron Sanderford



When: Tuesday, Oct. 16

Where: Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.

Moderator:Candy Crowley, CNN


When: Monday, Oct. 22

Where: Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.

Moderator: Bob Schieffer, CBS


When: Thursday, Oct. 11

Where: Center College, Danville, Ky.

Moderator: Martha Raddatz, ABC

Topic: Domestic affairs

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