Open thread: The second debate

9 p.m. ET across the dial, don’t miss your chance to watch a man who “really doesn’t like people” try to relate to average voters. According to Team Mitt, all they need tonight is a tie:

“He does not need to take home the same performance” as in the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3, in which Romney was widely considered the dominant debater, the aide, who is involved in the debate preparation, told National Journal on Tuesday. He said that the Romney team is preparing for a fierce attack from Obama on all fronts even though a town-hall format generally requires candidates to address questioners from the audience more than they do each other.

“They can’t afford another debate where they don’t lash out,” said the aide, who would speak only on condition of anonymity about internal debate preparations. “So we’re ready for it: the ‘47 percent’ comment, Bain Capital, the Cayman Islands” tax shelters, all of which have been staples of the Obama ad campaign in recent months…

The Romney team doesn’t expect foreign policy to dominate this debate, but they also hope to raise fresh questions over the Sept. 11 death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya by focusing on what they consider a misstatement by Vice President Joe Biden in his Oct. 11 debate with Rep. Paul Ryan, the aide said.

Benghazi is one obvious line of attack. Another, I hope, is Mitt trying to pin Obama down on what exactly he intends to do with a second term. For all of the Democrats’ cutesy-poo gimmicks about Romney’s evasiveness, the incumbent’s vision for America over the next four years is conspicuously thin, much to the dismay of Democratic pollsters. As for O, he’s got two basic themes, each of them potentially problematic. One: He’ll dismiss Romney’s messaging at the first debate as evidence that he’s a flip-flopper, although that’ll undercut Team Obama’s months-long messaging about what a committed neo-Goldwater ideological fanatic Mitt supposedly is. Two: He’ll go after Romney on Bain and the “47 percent,” although if he’s too nasty about it he’ll risk leaving the sort of jackhole impression that Biden left after the VP debate. Biden could get away with that because he’s Biden, because he was playing to his base, and because ultimately no one really cares what happens at the VP debate. Obama, who’s been banking on a vanishing “likeability gap” with Romney to put him over the top, really can’t. There’s very little left of Hopenchange circa 2008 as it is; if he loses his above-the-fray Bambi image too, then there’s basically nothing.

Having said that, I think there’s virtually nothing O could do onstage tonight short of barfing on someone that’ll get the left to admit afterward that he did poorly. They desperately need him to have a good performance to remain viable, and thus the narrative will make it so tomorrow even if Obama doesn’t make it so tonight. His problem is that, even with that media cushion, it’s unlikely that Romney will falter, which is really what O needs to reverse the momentum here. The only thing I can think of that might potentially get hairy for Romney is if he’s put on the spot by a questioner who’s either extremely confrontational or somehow deeply sympathetic — a “YouTube moment,” in other words. Romney can handle himself against O, but the crux of the Dems’ message against him has always been that he’s some sort of enemy of the working man. If they get a moment like that tonight, of some audience member being accusatory with Romney, that could get traction. All depends upon how he handles it, of course.

Here’s the Hot Air/Townhall Twitter widget for live-tweeting. While we wait, revisit four of Obama’s emptiest campaign promises from the last townhall debate he did in 2008, as there are bound to be a few more tonight. And bear in mind that no matter how well he does, his campaign’s still facing one last jobs report before election day — and all signs point to something not so hope-y change-y. Exit quotation from Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg: “The danger for Obama is that Romney would become the candidate of change.”

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