President Obama enters his first debate with Mitt Romney on Wednesday in Denver as the clear favorite, just as presidents were presumed to have the upper hand the six times they ran for reelection since 1976.
But the experts who set the odds were wrong in five of those six years. And there is good reason to believe they may be wrong again.
The logic of making a sitting president the odds-on favorite is eminently sound. Incumbents, after all, have experience as president of the United States. It is only logical that they should be faster with facts, slower to be rattled, and—for lack of a better term—more presidential in debate.
But history has taught a different lesson. It tells us that presidents are at a distinct disadvantage.
Samuel Popkin, a political-science professor who advised three Democratic nominees before their debates, said incumbents resist the prep work and react badly to being challenged.
Then add to that the fact that incumbents are almost always rusty. Romney this year has spent 43 hours in 23 separate debates. In contrast, Obama has not debated in four years.
Now, as the incumbent, Obama faces the same sky-high expectations that dogged all his recent predecessors. As Popkin says, “You can’t convince people that the most powerful person in the world doesn't have a lightning bolt.” It always seems to surprise American voters that their presidents are capable of looking old, distracted, or annoyed. It shouldn't. Read more
—George E. Condon Jr.
NATIONAL JOURNAL'S PRESIDENTIAL RACE REPORT
Analysis: Debate is Make or Break for Romney
[National Journal, 9/30/12] After nearly six years of running for president, Mitt Romney’s bid to could come down to a few hours onstage on Wednesday night. The debate, writes National Journal's Nancy Cook, marks a pivotal moment in Romney’s presidential campaign and perhaps the last chance for him to pull ahead.
Christie on Debate: ‘Entire Narrative of This Race Will Change’
[National Journal, 9/30/12] New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie played up the expectations for Romney’s Wednesday debate performance, on the same day that vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan tried to temper them. “Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race will change,” Christie said.
Ryan Tries to Lower Debate Expectations
[National Journal, 9/30/12] Ryan tried to tamp down expectations for the first presidential debate during his appearance on Fox News Sunday. Obama’s “been on the national stage for many years…This is Mitt's first time on this kind of a stage,” Ryan said.
Drop in Ohio Voter Registration, Especially Dem Strongholds, Mirrors National Trend
[Fox News, 9/28/12] Ohio has lost half a million voters since 2008, mostly in counties that vote Democratic. And a study by think tank Third Way has found that Democratic voter rolls have seen 10 times the losses seen on Republican voter rolls in eight swing states.
Romney Faces a Formidable Gender Gap
[National Journal, 9/29/12] A new YWCA-sponsored poll found President Obama leading Romney 49 percent to 31 percent among women. The president and his allies have waged one of the most aggressive advertising campaigns on women’s issues seen in a presidential race, and the gender gap represents one of Romney’s most pressing challenges.
Poll: Obama Leads Romney by 4 Points in Iowa
[Des Moines Register, 9/29/12] Obama leads Romney 49 percent to 45 percent in Iowa, according to The Register’s latest poll. The state has been blanketed by nearly $30 million in political television ads, and only 2 percent of likely voters remain undecided.
High Early Voting Turnout Mostly for Obama; GOP Says Its Own Push is Coming
[Des Moines Register, 9/27/12] A survey on the first day of early voting in Polk County, which includes Des Moines, points to a higher turnout of Obama supporters. Of the 550 voters on Friday, 401 were Democrats, while Democrats have requested five times as many absentee ballots statewide.
Ryan: Gun Owners Should Fear an Obama Re-Election
[National Journal, 9/29/12] Ryan courted hunters on Saturday in a speech to a sportsmen’s group, suggesting that Obama would seek to strip gun owners of their rights by appointing judges hostile to a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment. “I shudder as a gun owner ... what would he do if he never has to face the voters ever again?” Ryan asked.
Romney Shifted Right on Energy as Presidential Politics Beckoned
[New York Times, 9/29/12] As governor of Massachusetts, Romney compiled a progressive record on environmental issues, but reportedly backed off an industry-opposed green house gas pact because of the potential for future political damage. Since taking the national the stage, Romney has shed his green image and embraced the oil, coal and natural gas industries.
Poll: Medicare Working to Boost Obama in Swing States
[Washington Post, 9/28/12] More than 70 percent in Ohio, Florida and Virginia want to keep Medicare as is, rather than transitioning it to a voucher system, according to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly two-thirds of all voters in Florida registerd the same opinion.
Supreme Court Cases Could Still Impact 2012 Race
[Politico, 9/30/12] The Supreme Court is back in session on Monday, and is scheduled to look at affirmative action and government surveillance, with a same-sex marriage ruling also a possibility. The issues carry risks for both candidates, but they may have to confront them as they rise to the top of the national agenda in October.
Ann Romney Worried About Mitt’s ‘Mental Well-Being’ If Elected
[KTVN, 9/27/12] “I think my biggest worry would be for his mental well-being,” Ann Romney told a local Nevada television station last week. “I have all the confidence in the world of his ability, his decisiveness, his leadership skills … So for me I think it would be the emotional part of it."