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Winning the week: Obama must exude confidence, Romney can’t be robotic

In this Oct. 11, 2012, file photo U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. It's either candidate's race to win as Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney prepare to dig in for their second debate Tuesday night, Oct. 16, 2012, with just three weeks to go until the election and voting already well under way in many states.

Lynne Sladky/AP

Each Monday, The Globe invites two strategists – a Republican and a Democrat – to share their take on what each campaign needs to do this week in order to win the White House.

U.S. President Barack Obama seeks to regain momentum when he and Mitt Romney meet Tuesday night in a town hall debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

After a strong performance in the first presidential debate, Mr. Romney has been making up ground in key battleground states crucial to winning the White House. A Politico/George Washington University poll of 10 battleground states shows Mr. Romney leading 50 per cent to 48 per cent.

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A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released today shows a "virtual dead heat nationally" and surging enthusiasm among Republicans for their candidate.

An excited Republican base bodes well for the Romney campaign in a tight race where voter turnout will be key. Advanced voting is already underway in states. Also, voter registration drives are seeing a final push. In battleground Virginia, today is the last day to register to vote.

So what does each presidential campaign need to do to win the week? We asked two strategists – a Republican and a Democratic – to map a winning formula and share it with the Globe and Mail. Both focused on the intimate town hall format in Tuesday's debate. Of the 80 voters in the audience, about a dozen will get to ask questions, according to Politico.

Linda Moore Forbes served in the Clinton White House and worked on Capitol Hill. She is a Democratic Party insider, political consultant and has worked on several presidential campaigns.

The President needs to do well in this week's debate. There is no question about that, and he should benefit from lowered expectations. The town hall format of this debate should work to the President's benefit as well.

It is a more relaxed atmosphere and the emphasis is on connecting with the voters in the room who are asking the questions.

He knows Governor Romney's game plan now – to back away from his "severely conservative" agenda. Now, Mr. Obama must hold him to account for his lack of core principles, consistency, specifics, and the trillions in new debt it would bring, along with the fact that his national security agenda is just Bush-like bluster.

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My advice for President Obama going into this week's debate is to be more aggressive, certainly. But just as important, he needs to show the audience that he wants to be there, that he is grateful for the tremendous honor and responsibility of being their president, and for the opportunity to talk about the progress we've made thus far and his plans for the next four years. And he needs to exude his trademark ease and confidence. His grimace and unwillingness to look at Mitt Romney in the first debate made him look uncharacteristically threatened, uncomfortable, and dismissive.

He should be prepared for questions on health insurance premiums, the deficit, working with Congress, and Benghazi. Those could be particularly troublesome.

The campaign team should keep doing what they do best: registering and turning out voters. Among those who have already voted, the President leads 59 to 31 per cent.

Ron Bonjean served as lead spokesman for Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and as head of public affairs to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush administration.

Tuesday's debate between President Obama and Governor Romney means everything. The face off has a great potential to continue the momentum Mr. Romney generated from the last debate and [which also] erased Mr. Obama's lead just weeks before the election.

The debate style is a town hall format focusing both on domestic issues and foreign policy. This means that, for the first time, both Obama and Romney will take questions from the audience members. The format offers dangers and opportunities for both candidates.

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Mr. Obama is likely going to come out swinging against Mr. Romney to make up for the lackluster performance two weeks ago. This aggression could backfire against the President in a town hall style format where it is important to be on good behavior. If Mr. Romney can somehow draw Mr. Obama out into overdoing his attacks, it could make the President look desperate.

Mr. Romney has the opportunity to put Mr. Obama on defense over his record and continue to create a contrast over two visions for leading the future. For example, if he can force Mr. Obama to add to the spider web of explanations of how the administration handled the Benghazi attack, then it could create more political headache and negative coverage.

At the same time, Mr. Romney must find ways to relate to the audience who will be asking tough questions about the economy. When the governor said in the last debate, "There are people hurting out there," it was one of the first times that millions of people watching had any type of emotional connection to him. Mr. Romney will have to do everything possible to relate to the problems of middle class Americans without it looking canned or robotic.

Join Globe and Mail journalists and some of the expats from our Election 2012: Canadians in America series for live online coverage of the second presidential debate, getting under way just before 9:00 p.m. ET

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About the Author

Affan Chowdhry is the Globe's multimedia reporter specializing in foreign news. Prior to joining the Globe, he worked at the BBC World Service in London creating international news and current affairs programs and online content for a global audience. More


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