Slatest PM: The Debate-Buildup-Creates-an-Unlikely-Sex-Symbol Edition

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 2 2012 4:52 PM

Slatest PM: The Debate-Buildup-Creates-an-Unlikely-Sex-Symbol 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. Tuesday'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? WHAT ABOUT NOW? We've still got another day to go until President Obama and Mitt Romney take the stage in Denver, a fact that sucked up pretty much all of the oxygen in today's political news cycle. But have no fear, we've still got plenty to talk about, including the skewed-polling conspiracy theory going mainstream, the unlikely Electoral College scenario that would end in a 269-269 tie, and a major court decision in Pennsylvania. But first, a little more debate preview because, who are we kidding, we're just as excited about it as everyone else. 

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BUT MAYBE WE SHOULDN'T BE: The Fix's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake throw the latest batch of cold water on the idea that tomorrow night will shake up the presidential race. WaPo: "[T]here's plenty of reason to believe that the first debate will be played between the 40 yard lines ... rather than the sort of up and down the field affair that much of the political world seems to expect." Their top reasons the debate may turn out to be a snoozer: Obama has proved to be a cautious debater, Romney isn't much of a risk-taker either, and both men have had plenty of time to practice, practice, practice for the high-profile event.

SPEAKING OF PRACTICE: As U.S. News' Elizabeth Flock pointed out last week: "[T]his may be the first time in history presidential candidates have been given the topics of a debate ahead of time." So instead of using their practice sessions to prep answers for every possible question they could face, the candidates instead have been able to use the bulk of their time to fine-tune responses for the ones they are sure are coming their way.

YOU CAN'T ACTUALLY WIN A DEBATE: Over at BuzzFeed, Democratic campaign veteran Blake Zeff makes the case that all this talk of winning and losing doesn't really make sense in the big picture. The reality of the situation, Zeff explains, is that there are two ways we tend to define victory, and they don't necessarily align flush with each other: "Goal one is winning the 'media' version of a debate, achievable through memorable 'moments,' sizzling confrontations, and 'making news.' ... Meanwhile, in appealing directly to viewers of the debate, campaigns have different, sometimes warring, goals from those aimed at satisfying the media beast."

ANALYSIS: Based on the sneak peek inside the candidates' respective huddles we brought you yesterday, it would appear as though Romney and his zinger-focused team are gunning for a win with the media, while Obama and his planned workmanlike message is aimed at winning the debate among viewers.

WHAT ROMNEY HAS GOING FOR HIM: The New Yorker's John Cassidy says that the Denver stage favors the GOP challenger for a half dozen reasons. The one advantage that jumped out at us was this: "The mere fact of being onstage with a Presidential incumbent usually favors the challenger." Full thing here.

Happy Tuesday and welcome to the Slatest PM, where if you had any doubts that we're currently in a pre-debate political-news black hole, we offer you proof in the form of Politico's current homepage-leading story: "Joe Biden: Sex symbol?" Follow the entire @slatest team and @JoshVoorhees on Twitter, or fill your host's inbox with whatever is your mind at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

VOTER ID: Reuters with today's big voting news: "A judge on Tuesday blocked Pennsylvania from requiring voters to show identification in November's U.S. election, a decision that could influence turnout in a top electoral prize in the presidential race. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson issued a partial preliminary injunction that halts the requirement that people show either a state driver's license, government employee ID or a state non-driver ID card in order to vote on November 6."

WEIGEL, CARE TO WEIGH IN?: "It's the outcome I saw coming when I covered the trial this summer. There simply isn't an effective, logistical way to get every legitimate voter the form he needs to vote, even if he's using a provisional ballot. Will there be a way by 2014? Possibly! Which is what some petitioners argued, all along, pointing to 'soft rollouts' in other states." 

GOING MAINSTREAM: A new poll out today suggests that GOP accusations of intentional manipulation on the part of pollsters are resonating with the American public. Roughly 42 percent of those surveyed by left-leaning Public Policy Polling said pollsters were manipulating their data in order to show Obama with a lead, while 40 percent said that wasn't the case. The results show that self-identified Republicans were particularly likely to buy into the pollsters-are-against-us conspiracy theory, with 71 percent saying that the recent major polls showing President Obama pulling ahead nationally and in key battleground states are biased against their candidate. That number balloons to 84 percent when focusing exclusively on respondents who said they were Tea Party members.

THE EXACT WORDING: "Do you think pollsters are intentionally skewing their polls this year to help Barack Obama, or not?" 

REFRESHER: Frequent Slatest readers will remember that the pollsters have already debunked the conspiracy theory, explaining that conservatives' main beef with the numbers—what they say is an oversampling of Democrats in the surveys—actually is just further proof that the president is out in front coming down the home stretch. That explanation, however, has done little to convince conservative pundits that the polling data is on the straight and narrow. And, by the looks of the PPP poll, unless that happens, Republican voters in general are unlikely to accept any poll that shows Obama with a lead—even those sponsored by Fox News.

ON THE TOPIC OF NOVEMBER PREDICTIONS: New York Times' psephologist Nate Silver is wondering aloud whether the Electoral College could possibly return a split decision, with both Obama and Romney earning 269 electoral votes, or one shy of the 270 needed to clinch the race. While very unlikely, that scenario isn't exactly impossible to imagine, given Silver's latest FiveThirtyEight forecast, which has the president with an 85 percent chance or better of winning in 21 states. If you add up the electoral votes at stake in those states you get ... you guessed it, 269.

EVERYONE CALM DOWN: Of course, while the 269-apiece scenario may be easy to get to looking at the map, that doesn't make it even close to likely. For starters, it assumes that Obama wins all 21 states he's currently heavily favored in and not a single other, including a handful where he has a significant-but-not-dominating lead. So what are the odds of the sister-kissing tie? 0.6 percent. Silver's full post here.

DIDN'T WIN A MACARTHUR GENIUS GRANT? Read this.

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.

CHECKING THE TRAPS—

Denver Post: "Young illegal immigrants who receive temporary work permits to stay in the United States under an executive order issued by President Barack Obama would not be deported under a Mitt Romney administration, the GOP presidential hopeful told The Denver Post Monday."

AP: "Despite two explosions and dozens of other security threats, U.S. officials in Washington turned down repeated pleas from American diplomats in Libya to increase security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi where the U.S. ambassador was killed, Republican leaders of a House committee asserted Tuesday."

NYT: "The American military’s top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is preparing detailed information that could be used to kill or capture some of the militants suspected in the attack last month in Libya that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, senior military and counterterrorism officials said on Tuesday."

WaPo: "Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund director whose promising political career in France was immolated by sex scandals, was cleared Tuesday of charges he participated in the gang rape of a prostitute in a Washington hotel."

Reuters: "Google subsidiary Motorola Mobility has dropped a complaint of patent infringement against Apple without explanation."

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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