Slatest PM: The Incumbent's-Debate-Curse Edition

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 1 2012 5:17 PM

Slatest PM: The Incumbent's-Debate-Curse Edition

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***NOTE: We've revamped our afternoon Slatest newsletter to deliver a text-heavy recap of the day's top stories to our subscribers' inboxes. Monday's edition is below. You can sign up here to receive the Slatest PM in your inbox daily before it is published online.***

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

IS IT WEDNESDAY YET? President Obama and Mitt Romney won't take the stage in Denver for another 48-plus hours, a wait that appears to be only heightening everyone's anticipation for one of the few major scheduled campaign moments left before voters head to the polls on Nov. 6.

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INSIDE THE HUDDLE: The New York Times and the Associated Press bring us competing sneak peeks inside each camp as the two men make their final preparations.

Romney: AP: "The Republican presidential nominee has spent at least eight days over the past month getting ready for the three debates against President Barack Obama. He's holed up for hours on end with briefing books, top aides and his sparring partner, Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, often at the expense of campaigning."

NYT: "Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August. His strategy includes luring the president into appearing smug or evasive about his responsibility for the economy."

Obama: NYT:  The president "is not particularly fluid in sound bites, so his team is aiming for a workmanlike performance like his speech at the Democratic convention. He is looking to show that Mr. Romney would drive the country in an extreme ideological direction at odds with the interests of the middle class."

AP: "Obama has one mission heading into his first debate with Republican Mitt Romney: Don't screw things up. ... Obama has political momentum and an edge in polls of the battleground states that will determine the election. But he's sure to face a blistering challenge from Romney, who needs to use Wednesday's debate in Denver to change the trajectory of the race."

EXPECTATIONS: Both camps are engaged in the somewhat bizarre-seeming game of talking down their candidate in a bid to keep expectations low. Obama's staff has already fretted aloud that their man is too busy to properly prep for the showdown, while Romney's team is reminding voters that the GOP hopeful will be standing across the stage from a "universally-acclaimed public speaker" in Obama. (The one notable exception, of course, being Gov. Chris Christie, who went off script this weekend to predict a game-changing performance by Romney.)

AND THE SURVEY SAYS: On this one topic, at least, the polling data has some good news for the GOP challenger. A new Washington Post-ABC News survey out Monday suggests that a majority of likely voters expect Obama to win Wednesday's debate, 51 percent to 33 percent. A second poll from the Washington Times and Zogby paints a similar picture, with 49 percent predicting an Obama win to 26 percent who expect Romney to come out on top.

COUNTERPOINT: The National Journal, meanwhile, says anyone who expects Obama to walk to an easy debate victory is ignoring past incumbent performances: "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 when they first debate their challenger."

Can you back that up? Oh, you can. More from NJ: "Incumbent Gerald Ford was bested in debate by challenger Jimmy Carter; incumbent Carter was out-debated by challenger Ronald Reagan; incumbent Reagan lost badly in debate to challenger Walter Mondale; incumbent George H.W. Bush was topped in debate by challenger Bill Clinton; incumbent George W. Bush was seen as the loser in debate to challenger John Kerry. The only exception was incumbent Clinton, who had no trouble dispatching challenger Bob Dole, a notoriously bad debater, in their contests in 1996."

DEBATE REWIND: The Guardian has a video roundup of some of the biggest debate slip-ups from past presidential debates. Take a look here.

THE GIF-IFICATION OF POLITICS: The Atlantic Wire's Elspeth Reeve, meanwhile, explains why Obama and Romney will need to not only avoid sounding stupid but, perhaps more importantly, also looking stupid on stage: "The fear is not that they'll misstate the size of the national debt, but that they'll roll their eyes when the other guy does. The candidates' most important and difficult task of the October 3 debate will be controlling their faces. The road to the White House is strewn with the battered bodies of candidates revealed on a national stage to be eye-rollers, sighers, and fast-blinkers."

Happy Monday and welcome back to the Slatest PM. Follow the entire @slatest team and @JoshVoorhees on Twitter, or fill your host's inbox with whatever is on your mind at josh.voorhees@slate.com. 

YOUR DAILY RAYS OF HOPE: Every day until the election, Slate will offer up one reason to be optimistic for your candidate. Obama supporters click hereRomney backers click here.

SCOTUS RETURNS: The Associated Press: "The Supreme Court plunged into its new term Monday with a high-stakes dispute between businesses and human rights groups over accountability for foreign atrocities. The next nine months hold the prospect for major rulings on affirmative action, gay marriage and voting rights."

ABOUT THAT WHOLE 'FISCAL CLIFF' THING: The Washington Post: "Nearly 90 percent of Americans would face higher taxes next year if Congress permits the nation to hurtle over the 'fiscal cliff,' the year-end precipice of tax hikes and spending cuts that threatens to throw the nation back into recession. A study published Monday by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center finds that taxes would go up by a collective $536 billion next year, or about $3,500 per household, reducing after-tax income by about 6.2 percent."

FINISH HIM!: Slate's video team is out with the first installment of Political Kombat '12, a video-game-inspired look at the election season's battles. Round 1 is a look back at the GOP primary: Mitt Romney vs. Rick Santorum and Herman Cain. It is incredibly entertaining, but don't take our word for it, check it out for yourself here. You won't be disappointed.

CHECKING THE TRAPS—

WSJ: "U.S. manufacturers rebounded in September, with fresh data Monday showing factory activity expanded for the first time in four months despite weakening economies around the globe."

NYT: "Attorneys who represent whistle-blowers have made millions as the Obama administration cracks down on corporate fraud, and are now donating heavily to the president’s re-election campaign."

Reuters: "President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to get what they hoped for at the annual U.N. General Assembly after closing ranks to send a message to Iran that it may face war over its nuclear program."

SLATE QUICK HITS—

We'll see you back here tomorrow. But, until then, tell your friends to subscribe here or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.

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