New York, Tuesday 16 October 2012
That over-used line might just be true tonight: this actually could be the debate on which the election hinges.
The last time President Obama and Governor Romney met, Obama seemed disengaged, almost absent, while Romney was fired-up, less wooden than anyone had seen him before, in a word Presidential.
Tonight Democrat supporters will be looking for an Obama who seems energised, proud of what he has accomplished in the White House and eager to take the fight to his opponent. Republicans will be hoping that Romney continues to thaw before their eyes, and also that he continues to press his case over the Benghazi muddle. (Hillary Clinton has taken the blame for Benghazi today – another attempt to close down what has become a weak front for the administration.)
It is not an exaggeration to say that for Obama this is one of the crucial performances of his Presidency. After Romney aced the last debate, the polls swung by as much as 12 percent in his favour, putting him level pegging, or even in the lead for the first time. That in turn energised his campaign, and transformed his candidacy. Another misstep by Obama and it will seem like the President doesn’t even want to win another term.
For many voters, the debates are the first time they tune in to the presidential race. As the swing in the polls showed after the first debate, plenty of Americans, disappointed by the Obama presidency, might just be looking for an excuse to change their candidate at this late stage. Obama has to ensure that he doesn’t give them that excuse.
This time Obama has devoted four days to preparing for the debate in Long Island, New York. Not to master the policy details – he has those off pat – but to hone his style and stoke his fire.
Tens of millions of Americans will be tuning in tonight to see if their President has got his mojo back. The stakes could not be higher.