Second Presidential Debate Unlikely To Change Race

The second presidential debate is tonight, with Obama going in with a strong lead. Today’s Gallup Poll has him up by nine points, tying his greatest lead. Polls also show Obama with leads in the battleground states. One indication of how poorly McCain is doing in the state races is that the the latest poll out of Indiana shows a tie. McCain’s attempts at smearing Obama are failing as the voters are more impressed by Obama’s response to the financial crisis.

The format of the debate might leave little room for it to change the race unless one of the candidates makes a major gaffe. Yesterday Lynn Sweet reviewed the rules agreed to by the candidates (but not the moderator):

Brokaw selects the questions to ask from written queries submitted prior to the debate, according to the “contract.”

An audience member will not be allowed to switch questions. Under the deal, the moderator may not ask followups or make comments. The person who asks the question will not be allowed a follow-up either, and his or her microphone will be turned off after the question is read. A camera shot will only be shown of the person asking — not reacting.

While there will be director’s chairs (with backs and foot rests), McCain and Obama will be allowed to stand — but they can’t roam past their “designated area” to be marked on the stage. McCain and Obama are not supposed to ask each other direct questions.

While the rules seem to prevent follow up questions, Ben Smith reports that moderator Tom Brokaw was not a party to this agreement and therefore the campaigns are preparing for possible follow up questions.

Questions from the audience at a Town Hall are expected to be predictable and each candidate will probably wind up repeating their main themes. Some things Obama should say:

  • After all the publicity of Sarah Palin outright saying she would not answer the questions as asked, Obama might make a point early in the debate of telling the audience he will be happy to respond to their questions–and will continue to make a practice of responding to questions as president. Make openness an issue.
  • He’s said it plenty of times before, but Obama cannot repeat enough that his tax proposals will not increase taxes on those making under $250,000 per year, and that he offers the middle class a larger tax cut than McCain.
  • Continue to hit on health care. In addition to his current criticism, Obama should also point out that McCain plans to cut Medicare and that McCain’s goal is to cut health care costs by shifting a greater portion of the cost to individuals.
  • If McCain dares to repeat his recent smears such as those regarding Ayers and Rezko, quickly return the discussion to the economy after a brief comment that McCain and Palin have far more meaningful associations which might taint them. Obama can leave it to surrogates and the press to bring out the details.

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