Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are campaigning through Ohio and other critical swing states while President Barack Obama crams for the second presidential debate on Tuesday. Yesterday, Romney addressed a crowd of 11,000 supporters in Lebanon, Ohio, just one of the many large crowds he has been drawing across the state in recent days.
Meanwhile, Obama, who was criticized for not preparing enough for the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, is parked at a golf resort in Virginia to practice.
Romney is practicing, too, for the second debate, which will be held at Hofstra University near New York City on Tuesday, though he is squeezing debate preparation into his daily campaign schedule.
Romney has the added benefit of having devoted more time to debate practice already over the past several weeks. He has also spend more time in the kind of town hall setting that will be used in Tuesday’s debate. And he has less to prove, having won what both sides agree was a clear victory in the first debate. while Obama has ground to make up.
Obama has not made any apparent adjustments to his debate team, and is still using 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry as a stand-in for Romney, despite earlier criticism by the Obama campaign of Kerry’s performance as a sparring partner. Obama has also indicated that he would be less “polite” than he had been at the first debate. Democrats believe that Romney won by dominating the discussion, though Obama spoke for longer than Romney and moderator Jim Lehrer interrupted Romney more often. Vice President Joe Biden cheered Democrats with an aggressive performance in his Oct. 11 debate with Rep. Paul Ryan, and Obama may follow his lead.
However, the extra time that Obama is devoting to debate practice during a critical late stage of the campaign may cost him crucial opportunities to interact with voters, even as Romney builds a lead in swing states. Early voting has already started in Ohio, for instance, and Romney’s appearances there this weekend have lent an additional sense of momentum to his campaign.
It is a sign that Romney’s victory in the first debate may have paid even greater strategic dividends than first anticipated. Not only did the Republican dispel negative impressions that had been created by Obama campaign ads, but he also won handily enough to encourage his opponent to leave the campaign trail for several days.
It is unclear how much ground Obama can make up in the second debate. Even if the President wins, he may not shift the momentum of the race unless Romney commits a major gaffe. That is unlikely, given Romney’s debate experience over the past eighteen months against opponents who were determined to trip him up. If anything, Romney is better when he is being attacked.
Obama did perform very well in the second presidential debate in 2008, against an opponent who was likewise familiar with the town hall format. Republican Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) infamously called Obama “that one” during their back-and-forth, an odd reference that was widely criticized in the media in the days that followed.
However, Obama will likely need an even more dramatic slip by Romney in order to even the score. And in the meantime, Romney is taking full advantage of his opponent’s absence from the hustings to connect directly with voters.