Obama Still Leads In Latest Polls As Both Sides Play Debate Expectations Game

As October begins, President Obama is still slightly ahead of Mitt Romeny in the latest national polls and more importantly leading by wider margins in Florida and Ohio, but the biggest political news on Monday is the expectations game being played by both campaigns as the first Obama-Romney debate approaches on Wednesday.

The newest national polling, such as this Washington Post survey, finds the race exactly where it was a month ago—with Obama ahead of Romney 49 percent to 47 percent in national surveys. But in the swing states led by Ohio, Florida and Virginia, Obama is ahead of Rommey, 52 percent to 41 percent, the Post reported. Unlike the rest of the country, voters in swing state have seen numerous candidate visits, endless political advertisements and vigorous get-out-the-vote operations.   

The expectations game surrounding the first presidential debate is as strange as it is predictable. The Obama campaign—and the president himself—has sought to downplay his prowess as a debater, telling a crowd in Nevada Sunday evening that Romney “is a good debater” and “I’m just okay.” Obama supporters don’t seem to be buying it—as numerous articles have pointed out, such as this Los Angeles Times report. They seem to remember that Obama was once a soaring orator.

There are many aspects of the debates that do make them pivotal. The most obvious is voters will get to see both men on one stage, unlike the rest of the campaign where both sides rarely cross paths. They are also a chance to see both men react spontaneously when almost everything else in the race is highly scripted. And the polls find that 2012's voters are very interested in watching.

And people who have been involved in the debates before say that Romney actually has some advantages coming into Denver.

Sunday’s New York Times had this intriguing column by Walter Monday's coach for his 1984 debates with then-President Ronald Reagan. He explained that debating a sitting president elevates the contender’s stature—which others have noted and will help Romney. Mondale’s coach also said who answers the questions second has an advantage because going second means having more time to ponder a reply.

On the campaign trail, Romney has tightened his speaking style, which is well-suited to a debate format. Republicans close to the campaign have begun to talk about how Romney will throw zingers at Obama—on the economy, on Libya’s recent embassy attacks, on the role of government. This report in Salon suggests that Romney will try to do what Democrats did to George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks—say that the White House had prior intelligence that could have been used to prevent the murder of four Americans.

“My understanding is that they have come up with evidence that the Obama administration had positive intelligence that there was going to be a terrorist attack on the intelligence,” Salon's sourse inside the Romney camp states. Romney allies like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are saying it will be a “brand new race” after the debate, which, could refer to this latest line on Libya and also include attacking Obama for not siding more aggressively with Israel over countering Iran's nuclear weapon programs.

On the Democratic side, the latest spinning seems to be that Obama will attack Romney for his tax-cutting proposals, which Obama will point out cannot be paid for without draconian cuts to needed government services. That framing comes on the heels of a new report by the Washington Post that GOP vice-presidential nominee and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan did next to nothing last year to try to negotiate a compromise on the federal budget, which right wingers are calling a "hatchet job."

Of course, whether or not this GOP spin will be a game-changer is itself highly debatable, as Romney's campaign was attacked by people across the political spectrum for criticizing the State Department over the Libya murders. Moreover, the Romney campaign has not shown itself to be nimble at changing its message or focus, even when it is seen by pollsters are not working, such as his slightly more polite defense of his "47 percent" remarks, where he said that number of Americans were too dependent on government aid.

But even if Rommey and Obama debate to a draw in Denver on Wednesday—which both sides will undoubtedly spin their way—the debates are most likely to re-enforce the perceptions that both sides have made on the campaign trail. As the Times noted, Walter Mondale was called the winner of his first debate with Reagan in 1984. But, as we all know, he was not elected president.

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