News Analysis: Tuesday’s presidential debate all about style, giving Obama advantage


WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 — Both U.S. presidential candidates’ ability to connect with viewers will be the most important aspect of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, which could give President Barack Obama an advantage over his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, experts said.

Indeed, the debate’s town-hall forum is all about being folksy and portraying oneself as attuned to the needs of the average Americans, rather than paying attention to the finer points of policy.

As such, Obama has a natural advantage, as he apparently has always been able to connect better with his audience than Romney, who has at times come off as stiff and awkward in public, experts said.

“It’s a real dog and pony show,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Town hall debates tend to favor style over substance.”

Still, Obama will have to come out swinging Tuesday night after his lackluster performance in the first presidential debate earlier this month, which caused him to slip in the national polls as Romney raced ahead.

On Monday, polls were dead even, with Romney ahead by a razor-thin 0.1 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, although Obama still is expected to take more electoral votes than the challenger.

But Romney cannot simply sit back now, and he must continue to push ahead if he wants to win. True, he showed in the first debate that a strong performance can boost a candidate’s standing in the polls, and he was also able to persuade many viewers that he is not the heartless capitalist that Obama’s attack ads have depicted him as being, the experts said.

But it remains to be seen whether Romney has gotten over his public awkwardness, as Tuesday’s discussion will be much less about policy and mostly about each candidate presenting himself as someone who can relate to average voters. That means that Romney must avoid getting bogged down in tedious policy minutia, as he is known to do, noted O’Connell.

Such a discussion is likely to cause viewers’ eyes to glaze over, and viewers do not want to see a boring candidate on Tuesday.