President Obama’s re-election campaign has built itself a meme of inevitability – they’ve used a willing media to tout the message that the presidential race against Mitt Romney is over. By doing so, they hoped to create a perception that Romney must win the first presidential debate tonight, or lose the election by default. Meanwhile, they’ve been pushing the idea that Romney is a phenomenal debater; Obama’s campaign says that Obama will likely lose, and Obama himself has been proclaiming that he’s “just okay.” The goal is obvious: paint Romney as a desperate candidate in need of a win, then set expectations so high for him that he can’t win.
Unfortunately for the Obama campaign, the American public has bought their first argument – the argument that Obama is going to win – but they’ve rejected Obama’s second argument that he’s going to lose the debate. In fact, all polls show that by wide margins, Americans expect Obama to win the debate. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll this week, a full 63 percent of registered voters expect Obama to win re-election – but 56 percent also expect him to win the debates. The newest Washington Times/Zogby poll of likely voters shows the same thing: 49 percent think Obama will win, while just 26 percent think Romney will win. Independents think Obama will win by a margin of 46-17.
Obama’s attempts to mitigate expectations for this debate have failed dramatically. That sets him up for a major fall should he lose.
Romney still has room for movement in this race. Obama doesn’t have much. The same polls show that the American public doesn’t know Romney nearly as well as it does Obama. If Romney does show strong tonight, he should see a significant bump in the polling. And if that happens, a race that is dead tied but trending Obama could begin to shift its momentum toward the challenger.