Slatest PM: The Debate-Doesn't-Matter-Unless-It-Does Edition

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 3 2012 4:24 PM

Slatest PM: The Debate-Doesn't-Matter-Unless-It-Does 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. Wednesday'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? Why, yes, yes it is! President Obama and Mitt Romney will square off face-to-face tonight in Denver for the first of three presidential debates between now and Nov. 6. The domestic-policy showdown kicks off at 9 p.m. Eastern, and will be moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer.

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SETTING THE STAGE: The Associated Press: "Romney, trailing in polls in a number of key states and running short on time to reverse his fortunes, is angling for a breakout performance in the three 90-minute presidential debates scheduled over the next three weeks. Obama, well aware that the remaining five weeks of the race still offer enough time for tectonic shifts in his prospects, is determined to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes as he presses his case for a second term."

REALITY CHECK: Washington Post's Wonkbook: "[Zero]. That's the number of recent elections that we can confidently say were decided by debates. Gallup, for instance, reviewed their polls going back to 1960 and concluded they 'reveal few instances in which the debates may have had a substantive impact on election outcomes.' Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien, in The Timeline of Presidential Elections, looked at a much broader array of polls and concluded that ... 'there is no case where we can trace a substantial shift to the debates.' Political scientist John Sides, summarizing a careful study by James Stimson, writes that there’s 'little evidence of [debate] game changers in the presidential campaigns between 1960 and 2000.' "

COUNTERPOINT: The Princeton Election Consortium takes a closer look at the data and finds that the idea that the debates don't matter misses the mark, both at the top of the ticket and below. More on the impact on the downticket impact: "The presidential outcome is only one measure of the debates’ effectiveness. As I have shown, downticket Senate races this year have tracked presidential preference closely. The same is likely to be true of House races. These linkages are driven in part by partisan voter intensity. If one side’s intensity fades or surges, it will affect races at all levels on the ticket. The Obama-Romney debate may well influence the shape of the Congress that the president will face in January."

REGARDLESS of whether the debate will shift the race one way or the other, it is clear that 90 minutes Romney will spend on stage tonight will be the most stressful moment of his life. John Dickerson explains: "Debates are particularly unnatural for the challenger because he has to do more on stage. He's got to make a good impression, connect with voters, show them he has values like their own, and deploy zingers that he and his staff have cooked up while making it look like the zingers are spontaneous. It's like batting in Little League with both your parents, the coach, and your best friend Will all giving you different advice before you get to the plate."

Happy Debate Day and welcome to The Slatest PM, where we can't believe the Nationals didn't save a Teddy win for when they needed a boost in the playoffs. 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.

BY THE NUMBERS:

—National JournalTop 8 Debate Zingers of all Time

LET'S TALK DETAILS: "You pay for the tax cuts in the way that Governor Romney is going to articulate in the next five weeks," Romney lawyer Ben Ginsberg told reporters today when asked how the GOP challenger will pay for the income tax cuts he has promised. "You are going to hear that from his mouth in the coming days." In the next five weeks is pretty much just saying before the election, but let's look at a hypothetical anyway: What if Romney unveiled the tax specifics mid-debate tonight?

REAL CLEAR POLITICS POLLING AVERAGE: Obama 49.1, Romney 46.0

ABOUT THAT DRUDGE-HYPED OBAMA VIDEO: The conservative troika of Matt Drudge, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity unveiled what they claimed to be a campaign game-changer last night: video of a 2007 speech then-Sen. Obama gave in which he praised Rev. Jeremiah Wright and vented about what he saw as a failure of the federal government to adequately help the predominantly minority victims of Hurricane Katrina. But the rub, of course, is that it's difficult for a five-year-old video to live up to that bombshell billing when the speech itself was not only open to the press, but was also widely covered at the time by pretty much everyone from the Associated Press to Fox News to NPR. More on the original coverage here; and a look at how the re-release party was, nonetheless, at least a partial success for conservatives.

THIS SEEMS LIKE A PROBLEM: The Washington Post: "More than three weeks after attacks in this city killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, sensitive documents remained only loosely secured in the remains of the U.S. mission here on Wednesday, offering visitors easy access to delicate details about American operations in Libya."

CHECKING THE REST OF THE TRAPS—

NYT: "Four huge explosions struck a government-held district of Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday, shearing off the fronts of two tall buildings, killing more than 40 people and filling the streets with rubble in a square near the area’s public park, according to video, photographs and reports from the Syrian government and its opponents."

AP: "The office of Turkey's prime minister says Turkish artillery has fired on Syrian targets after deadly shelling from the Syrian side hit a Turkish border town. ... The artillery fire on Wednesday followed shelling, believed to be from Syrian government forces that hit the Turkish village of Akcakale. A Turkish ruling party official says five people died."

Reuters: "U.S. companies added more jobs than expected in September, while activity in the vast services sector picked up, suggesting the economy remained on track for modest growth. The ADP National Employment Report showed private employers added 162,000 jobs in September, more than economists expected, but fewer than the 189,000 hired in August."

WSJ: "Asian suppliers for Apple Inc. have started mass production of a new tablet computer smaller than the current iPad, executives at component makers said, as the Silicon Valley company tries to stay competitive against tablets from rivals such as Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc."

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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