Second Presidential Debate Preview

So the second debate begins at 9:00 EDT, and will revolve around up to 12 pre-screened questions from undecided voters living in the general area of Hofstra University. There’s some disagreement on exactly what moderator Candy Crowley is allowed to do to follow up once candidates have given their two minute “response.”

The pre-debate hype has been predictably large. I just heard Chuck Todd on NBC say “this is the moment” the remainder of the campaign will be determined.

As is obvious, the positions of the two candidates have been reversed from the first debate: it’s Romney who has the relatively simple task of reprising his first debate performance, continuing his new Moderate Mitt re-positioning and parrying challenges to his policy proposals by sounding authoritative. The general feeling is that if Romney is adjudged to have “won,” follow-up questions about his facts and honestly will be obscured, even as they were after the Denver event. The main new challenge for him is to appear non-weird in interactions with Real People. Meanwhile, Obama has the more complicated task of (1) acting “engaged” and aggressive; (2) leaving no Romney attack or assertion un-addressed; (3) clarifying his take on his first-term accomplishment and second-term agenda; and (4) knocking big holes in the Moderate Mitt facade.

So despite the assumption that “expectations” are lower for Obama than in Denver, setting a lower threshold for success, he has more marks to hit, and a second “Romney win” could be inflated in post-debate spin even more than was the first. No matter what happens, though, you can expect Team Obama to show up in the spin room in full force and loaded for bear.

Regular readers know that I approach these debates with trepidation and even a bit of disgust. My live-blogging will focus more on what I hear and what I know about the substance of the discussion rather than conventional debate “scoring” or all the happy crap about energy levels and other style points (you can get plenty of that elsewhere). And I won’t look at Twitter until the whole thing is over.

So I’ll drink some bitter coffee and get ready for the show, trying not to accept that things like the continuation of the Medicaid program as we know it, or the continuation of a government that tries to avoid war and tries to acknowledge threats like climate change, could be on the line.

As before, I’ll break the live-blog into sections for easier reading and commenting.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.