I don’t envy Mitt Romney. Missteps during the last couple weeks have put him in a pressure-filled position: he’s got to be outstanding in the first presidential debate on October 3. The political pundits believe that Romney must significantly outperform President Obama if he is to regain his footing and make up for lost percentage points in the polls.
I don’t envy Barack Obama. By all rights, he should lose this election because presidents who don’t turn a struggling economy around (as if they truly have the power to do so) almost always get kicked out of office. Obama must significantly outperform his opponent if he wants to hold on to the slight gains he has made in the polls.
At Hofstra, site of the October 16 debate, my one-credit course this semester, “PR and the Presidency,” examines how candidates and presidents have used public relations techniques to gain support or help with damage control. So far we’ve watched Richard Nixon’s “Checkers” speech, a bold and early use of television that saved his 1952 candidacy for vice president; we’ve also viewed highlights of the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960. In that famous case study, Kennedy’s smart coolness made for a striking contrast to Nixon’s pallid and sometimes shifty appearance. Kennedy was well-rehearsed, well-dressed and well-prepared for what the debates meant to his candidacy.
In the past half century, we’ve seen presidential campaigns turn sour on a single slip of the tongue or soar on a well-turned phrase during debates. President Gerald Ford watched his candidacy against Jimmy Carter tank after he mistakenly said, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” an ignorant statement he surely didn’t mean. Just four years later, President Carter looked helpless as candidate Ronald Reagan ended the debate by asking America, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
The 2012 candidates have much to fear–and much to prepare for. The pressure sure is on. And for us, this is going to be really fun to watch. Your thoughts?