Slatest PM: Your Town Hall Debate Preview

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 16 2012 4:46 PM

Slatest PM: The Debate-Rules-Are-Made-To-Be-Broken Edition

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Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

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

DING, DING, ROUND TWO: President Obama and Mitt Romney square off on Long Island tonight (9 p.m. ET) for the second of this month's three presidential debates. The GOP challenger will be hoping to keep the momentum going from Denver, where he delivered a stronger-than-expected performance that brought an end to the idea that the president was slowly marching toward an inevitable November win. Obama, meanwhile, will look to match some (but probably not all) of Joe Biden's passion from last week to reassure worried Democrats while winning back any of the moderate voters (particularly of the female variety) who may have left his camp since his stumble on the Rocky Mountain stage.

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WHAT OBAMA NEEDS TO DO: Slate's John Dickerson: The president "must pay careful attention to Mitt Romney. He must fact-check him, point out the fuzzy math behind his bold claims, and paint him as a stealth conservative. ... But the president’s primary goal is still selling himself. He needs to offer voters some reason to stay with him. For months the Obama campaign has been trying to disqualify Mitt Romney. It worked through the spring and summer. ... Now that ground has been lost. Voters have essentially the same slightly favorable view of both men. That puts Romney in a strong position with swing voters who supported Obama in 2008 but are ready to leave him. The Romney campaign has always been gunning for this group, knowing they could be swayed up until the end of the race. The president can’t just frighten those voters back into the fold; he’s got to make the case for why they should 'stick with this guy.'"

WHAT ROMNEY NEEDS TO DO: Politico'Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush: The former Massachusetts governor must "clear through the clutter of attacks from Obama. Try to get under the president’s skin without looking like that’s what he’s trying to do. Be ready to answer questions—and criticisms—about his comments on '47 percent,' his personal taxes, his tenure at Bain Capital, something he avoided in Denver. Of the three, the last topic is the least likely to arise tonight as Obama may have difficulty painting Romney as a corporate raider without seeming anti-business in the town hall-style setting on Long Island."

HAPPY DEBATE DATE and welcome to The Slatest PM. Follow the entire team @slatest and your afternoon host @JoshVoorhees, or fill his inbox with your thoughts about tonight's debate or anything else on your mind at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

THE FORMAT: From the Commission on Presidential Debates: "The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which citizens will ask questions of the candidates on foreign and domestic issues. Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion. The town meeting participants will be undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization."

THE GROUND RULES: The Obama and Romney campaigns have created an interesting framework for tonight's event. Most notably, neither camp wants anyone to do a whole lot of moderating, specifically requesting that no one—not moderator Candy Crowley, not the audience, not even Obama or Romney—ask any follow-up questions to a candidate who may choose to talk his way around a difficult question. Full debate memo here.

IN NAME ONLY: Slate's Kerry Howley: "In light of this document and the Obama/Romney tussle two weeks back, 'debate' is probably too elevated a word for what we'll be seeing tonight. There will be a series of alternating speeches. ... What arises from this 21-page document is a vision of what an exchange unregulated by agreements and unconstrained by tradition might look like. In that debate, Obama could stand on a little step-stool to look taller, which is here prohibited on page 15, and Romney might show up with a large array of unexpected props, here prohibited on page three. Rogue cameramen could stumble into the pre-debate campaign coaching sessions; audience members would fight amongst themselves; candidates might start a call-and-response with the people seated before them. It would, at the very least, be better television."

RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN: While lawyers for both camps signed off on the memo earlier this month, no one seems to have run it by Crowley. She has previously made numerous suggestions that she has no plans to sit by and let candidates spout talking points, a promise she reiterated today. "They will call on Alice, and Alice will stand up and ask a question. Both candidates will answer. Then there's time for a follow-up question, facilitating a discussion, whatever you want to call it," she said during an appearance on CNN this afternoon. "So if Alice asks oranges, and someone answers apples, there's the time to go, 'But Alice asked oranges? What's the answer to that?' Or, 'Well, you say this, but what about that?' "

LET HISTORY BE OUR GUIDE: Politico's Dylan Byers: "Four years ago, NBC's Tom Brokaw wasn't supposed to ask his own questions, either. And yet that is exactly what he did as soon as then-Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain had concluded their responses to the first question from an audience member."

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: In a move that provides something of a political lifeline to the president ahead of tonight's debate, Hillary Clinton on Monday took the blame for any security lapses that may have occurred at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in the lead up to the terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and a trio of other diplomats last month. "I take responsibility," she told CNN. "I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world (at) 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision."

CHECKING THE NONDEBATE TRAPS—

Washington Post: "The Supreme Court delivered a victory to President Obama’s reelection campaign Tuesday, saying it would not stay a lower court’s ruling that all voters—not just those in the military—be allowed to vote in the three days before the Nov. 6 election. The court turned down Ohio’s petition without comment. There were no noted dissents to the decision." 

NYT: "Citigroup’s board said on Tuesday that Vikram S. Pandit had stepped down as chief executive, effective immediately, and would be succeeded by the head of the bank’s European and Middle Eastern division, Michael L. Corbat. His resignation comes after long-simmering tensions with the bank’s board. In particular, the board’s chairman, Michael E. O’Neill, had been increasingly critical of Mr. Pandit’s management, according to several people close to the bank."

Reuters"Taliban insurgents said on Tuesday that the Pakistani schoolgirl its gunmen shot in the head deserved to die because she had spoken out against the group and praised U.S. President Barack Obama. Malala Yousufzai, 14, was flown to Britain on Monday, where doctors said she has every chance of making a 'good recovery.' ... Pakistan's Taliban described Yousufzai as a 'spy of the West.' 'For this espionage, infidels gave her awards and rewards. And Islam orders killing of those who are spying for enemies,' the group said in a statement."

AP: "More than 56 million Social Security recipients will see their monthly payments go up by 1.7 percent next year.  The increase, which starts in January, is tied to a measure of inflation released Tuesday. It shows that inflation has been relatively low over the past year, despite the recent surge in gas prices, resulting in one of the smallest increases in Social Security payments since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975."

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