President Barack Obama and GOP contender Mitt Romney square off in their second debate Tuesday night, and there is already talk about the Obama camp’s game plan, as well as Romney's counter-tactics.
Romney is widely seen as winning the first debate and using it as a springboard to pass Obama in some national polls.
This time, however, experts within each party and outside of Democrat and Republican circles expect President Obama to be more engaged and on the offensive.
And there are some clues about the Democrats' tactics, based on information available about his debate preparation.
First: The 2008 Obama will return. The president has been locked away in Williamsburg, Virginia, since the weekend studying and practicing for the debate. Playing the role of Mitt Romney is Senator John Kerry, a formidable debater who also played the Romney role in the preparation for the first debate. Expect Kerry to take on the persona of a more-aggressive Romney during practice, which should help the president with counter-attacks. Insiders in both parties expect a better-prepared Obama. Romney is using the same debate prep that worked in Denver.
Second: Expect more zingers. The Romney camp widely acknowledged their candidate would come into the Denver debate armed with zingers. The Obama team said at the time it wouldn’t use zingers in Denver. That self-imposed zinger ban will be lifted, in what could be a battle of zingers and counter-zingers.
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Third: More talk about the “47 percent” video and Bain Capital. Vice President Joe Biden quickly mentioned the fundraising video from this spring in his debate with Paul Ryan. The Romney team probably had a variety of responses ready in Denver it can use this time. The topic of Bain Capital didn’t come up in the vice presidential debate. So how will President Obama advance the topics, especially in a town hall format? That could be the key.
Fourth: Defend the “you didn’t build that” quote. Romney will undoubtedly find a way to hammer Obama as hostile to small business, using the president’s “you didn’t build that” statement. We saw a preview of the counterattack in the Ryan-Biden debate, when Biden claimed Republican tax plans hurt small business. Also, expect talk about Libya and the recent jobs numbers.
Fifth: Obama will question Romney’s conservative credentials. Expect the Tea Party, abortion, health care, and women's rights as topics the president will use as a conservative litmus test for Romney. On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Romney sources said the former Massachusetts governor will counter with two tactics: point to the economy and highlight his role as a “unity” governor in Massachusetts. We’d also expect a few “flip flop” comments, too, from Obama, with appropriate counters from Romney about Obama's record.
As the debate approaches, there is also considerable discussion about the debate format: Does a town hall better suit Romney or Obama?
One school of thought is that the president might seem more personable as he directly answers audience questions. But Romney came off as more personable in the Denver debate.
It has also been previously reported that President Obama has struggled in the town hall format in the past, as he slips into professor mode and starts lecturing the audience. Romney had already done a lot of town halls in the 2012 election cycle as a primary candidate.
But in 2008, candidate Obama did his best in situations where his candidacy was threatened, including his memorable speech on race at the National Constitution Center.
In reality, the subplot of the second debate will be getting a message to independent voters in swing states. Expect a lot of talk about the automobile bailout from the Obama camp and Medicare from both sides as ways to get the attention of Ohio and Florida voters.
The debate is at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday and it will be televised live on TV and streamed on the Internet.
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.