12 Days to Go - What Will it Take to Win?

Welcome back!
It's been a hectic few weeks since our last posting. Trips to New York City (twice), Toronto (once) interspersed with a barrage of media interviews - most of them on the Presidential race - have kept Laura and me hopping. On one day, I found myself doing 11 radio interviews on CBC's drive-time shows across the country crammed into a three hour period. The subject was 'Presidential debate language' and how it shapes elections. [move ahead to 1:00 hour in on this CBC Vancouver interview example.] Oh yeah...did I mention our media and presentation skills seminars? A few of them sprinkled in between.
Twelve Days to Go....a Nail Biter
Well with twelve days to go, what do you think will happen? Are you getting exhausted by all the analysts and commentators (excluding me, of course. Well, maybe not.
 my analysis of the third and final debate [click on Oct. 23, 8:00 minutes in] can be summed up as follows: Obama won on tactics - aggressively putting Romney onto the defense; deflecting criticisms of his Administration's foreign policy record etc. However, Romney's strategy seemed clear: to prove he knew something about foreign policy and to inoculate himself against attacks that he would adopt the interventionist Bush agenda on foreign policy. He clearly accomplished that strategy. In fact, he used the word 'peace' so often, he seemed to be morphing the late George McGovern at times! Barack Obama often found himself saying, "I'm glad Governor Romney agrees with me!" That was probably not a good idea. He made choosing Romney a safe option. Ouch!
So what does this portend for election day? Well, as we have been saying relentlessly here, it boils down to the swing states - Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Florida, Colorado in particular. Could it be that we may not know for a few days after election day? Let's hope not. The public can do without the agony of the 2000 election and the intervention of the Supreme Court deciding on some 'hanging chads'. Nevertheless, it will be knife-edge sharp.
How did this razor-thin election race come about?
There are several reasons for this, but there is no question that the impact of the first debate was huge. After nearly a billion dollars of Obama campaign ads de-legitimizing Mitt Romney's record - at Bain Capital, as governor, his penchant for flip-flopping etc., the viewers were quite shocked to see that the Romney on their screen was not the Romney they were led to believe. That impression was not fundamentally altered in the second and third debate, which President Obama won on points, by most accounts. Romney could have driven it home in the third debate, but held back - avoiding tagging Obama on Benghazi; in effect, "me too" on many of the Obama Administration's foreign policies etc. So the momentum was slowed down and may well have shifted back to the Obama campaign.
Momentum is everything
What is golden in any campaign (besides money)? Faithful followers of this blog know....it's momentum! So every effort is being made by the Obama team to stop the Romney momentum, while Romney is doing everything he can to keep it going. As of now, it's neck-and-neck and it will be a late-night nail-biter to say the least.
12 Days to Go - What will it take to win?
1. Romney must build on his momentum by keeping his focus on the economy.
2. Romney needs to avoid getting nasty and personal. His supporters and third party advocates have used provocatively nasty words and accusations against Obama - as of course the Obama team has done in reverse. [The latest 'shocking' allegation by Donald Trump questioning his 'foreign' status in his university and passport applications by offering to donate $5 million to Obama's charity of choice if he would release the documents.] As expected, it was instantly rebuffed by the Obama team. Romney has to steer clear of that issue, as he has done in the past. The moveable voter is not partisan and he must sound Presidential - someone who can break the deadlock in Congress and move the country forward.
3. Obama must manage his tone. Recently, President Obama looks like he has recovered from his 'absence' in the first Denver debate and he must continue to sound Presidential. If he veers into a sarcastic, off-putting tone that he fell into in the third debate, he will turn off the voters he needs to reach. He also has to be careful of letting his guard down on the late-night shows, such as recently on Jon Stewart's Daily Show when he used the phrase 'not optimal' to describe the loss of the four diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya. [For the record, he repeated the phrase that Stewart had used. Those who have taken our media training know, never to repeat the 'bait phrase' in the question.]
4. Obama needs to make the case for what he will do in the next four years. His release of his 20 page pamphlet with bullet point details of his agenda this week is a recognition that a sitting President can't defend the past, but must look forward. Although criticized as not being bold, nevertheless, it is better late than never and may provide him with some insurance against swing voters who want to know where he would take the country in the next four years.
5. Both parties have to focus on the vote of women. Romney, who has closed the gap significantly in recent weeks, must avoid bogging down in social issues, while focusing on how he would ensure equality and fairness in the hiring, pay and treatment of women in the workforce. No more 'binders full of women' comments which was one of those Romney phrases that dominated coverage of the second debate, thus blunting his momentum.
6. Get out the vote. Both have strong GOTV capacities. In a race this close, it's the last weapon they have in the arsenal.

So, if you thought you'd heard enough about the campaign to date - you ain't seen nothin' yet!

Until next time.....


Who's Going to Win the VP Debate and Does it Matter?

Welcome back....
Well that once-in-a-generation debate performance took place last week, suddenly vaulting Mitt Romney into the lead in polls for the first time in many months. He did what he needed to do, while President Obama mailed it in. It could be the 'game changer' although with less than a month ago,
Here is my Canada AM debate preview (fast-forward 18:45 in). And this is how I predicted it on CPAC [Canadian Parliamentary Channel] just before the debate. As well,  I had a sense that the debate may prove to be that once in a generation experience. No one - including me - predicted what a wipe it would be for Romney!
  What Happened to Obama?
This has led to significant rumors in the media as to what happened to Obama? He wasn't properly prepared? Had a really bad strategy to let Romney off the hook? Annoyed because he had to spend his 20th wedding anniversary with Mitt instead of Michelle? He wasn't feeling well (according to Al Gore)? Who knows! My sense is that he completely under-estimated Romney; thought he didn't need to put the kind of extensive role-plays into it, combined with being a tad exhausted. The important take-away is that one more performance like that and President Obama may be a one-term President.
The Vice-Presidential Debate
Which brings us to Thursday night's Vice Presidential debate. Usually, these debates play a role as an interesting minor league for political junkies only. However, every once in a while, they can trump the Presidential debates in sound bites and media buzz.

The most famous example of this was the shellacking that the Dems' Sen. Lloyd Bentsen gave to the GOP's Sen. Dan Quayle with his "Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator you're no Jack Kennedy. "Devastating, but ultimately it didn't mean a hill of beans as George H. W. Bush (41) beat Mike Dukakis handily on election day.
 What the two VP candidates need to do in the debate
1. Do no harm. All Vice Presidential candidates do not want to be remembered as the one who brought down the ticket. Sarah Palin surprised many critics by actually doing well against the more experienced Joe Biden in the 2008 debate.
2. Attack the head of the ticket more than the VP candidate. Bob Dole was Gerald Ford's 'hatchet man' in 1976 and was almost too good at the role. He over-reached when he characterized the World Wars of the 20th Century as 'Democrat wars'. Ouch! The Ford team had to walk that one back. In this debate, there will be extra pressure on Joe Biden to point out what the Obama campaign feels are the statements of Mitt Romney in the first debate (most of which Obama ignored). Ryan will be a strong attack dog but will keep his focus on Obama as he does it.
3. Manage expectations well. That is particularly important in this debate as Joe Biden, although greatly experienced, has been stereo-typed as the master of the gaffe, but amiable and likeable. Paul Ryan on the other hand is largely unknown to most voters and Biden will try to define him clearly in negative terms.
4. Define the other guy while defining themselves. As the newcomer, Ryan will naturally attract some hard hits from Biden who will try to contrast his previous well-documented positions on health care and the budget, in particular. What is interesting here, is they are both Catholic blue-collar men who have a terrific ability to resonate with the middle class, suburban voter in a way that both Romney and Obama have more difficulty doing.
5. Target the swing voters in swing states. What has become even more clear following Romney's first debate success, is that he has to gain more traction in the swing states. Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Virginia are critically important. Ryan has not succeeded to date in bringing his home state of Wisconsin along, and will clearly want to highlight his Wisconsin roots in order to generate momentum in that swing state.
6. Show they have vision and energy for the future. If Romney loses, then Paul Ryan becomes the automatic leading candidate. Conversely, if Obama wins, Biden has a chance to compete toe-to-toe with Hilary Clinton and others. So, while each will deny adamantly any such interest, a powerful debate performance can be an excellent career move.


Winning the Presidential Debate

Welcome back!
      It's been a busy few weeks filled with travel, seminars, and lots of political and other news to make any media junkie salivate. Laura and I attended a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation who honored Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper and business leaders Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup and Virgina M. Rometty, President and CEO of IBM. According to many audience members that we spoke to, Mr. Harper's speech was indeed the highlight - garnering a huge ovation and a lot of buzz by the nearly 2000 business and political leaders in the room.
      There's a huge well of interest building for Wednesday's first Presidential debate and I will be doing some media 'hits' previewing it on Wednesday morning at 7:15 am EST on CTV's Canada AM and later in the day on CPAC (www.CPAC.ca). In this brief post, I will attempt to point out what both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney has to do in order to experience 'the thrill of victory' and to avoid 'the agony of defeat'.
Winning the Presidential Debate
1. Frame the ballot question. For Mr. Romney, facing a [slowly] recovering economy and a growing optimism in America's future, needs to frame the vote as 'change vs. more of the same'. That's a sweeter spot for him than merely posing it as a referendum on the President's stewardship of the economy. For President Obama, he has to frame it as 'who do you trust to finish the job and restore jobs for Americans'? The trust question is stronger for him, as a combination of brutal ads which have defined Romney as well as Romney's mis-steps (the 47% video) have shaken trust in Romney.
2. Connect with the swing voters in the swing states. A shift of about 3% overall, and an upswing for Romney in key states - especially Ohio and Florida, Wisconsin and one or two others - could put him in the White House. With 60 million viewers paying attention - quite a number for the first time - this has the possibility of being a game-changer. But the burden is on Romney to move the dial. Obama can't play it totally safe, but it's up to Romney to change the dynamic that is now in play.
3. Defend without looking 'defensive'. Each will have to defend against a series of attack points and must deflect them effectively, while getting back on his message track. Looking weak, fazed or caught off guard will be a tweet-able disaster that can grow exponentially after the debate.
4. Look and sound Presidential. That is a delicate art. As John F. Kennedy proved in 1960; Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992, it's vital to come across as someone whom you would trust with his finger on the nuclear button. It isn't based on your resumé or political experience. It is a combination of being 'comfortable in your own skin', sincere, determined, calm, yet with a sense of passion for the country and a voice for everyday Americans who get up every day, work hard, pay their taxes and obey the law.
5. Its not what you say, but how you say it that counts. According to a UCLA research project, 55% of the believed message comes from non-verbal cues (eye contact, facial expression, body language); 38% is based on the tone and attitude [Al Gore's heavy sighing and condescending tone hurt him badly in the 2000 debate with George W. Bush]; while only 7% of the believed message is based on what you actually say [again if you think of George W. Bush in 2000, his debate victory was not really based on his verbals]. however, a major blunder (Gerald Ford's 1976 gaffe in which he claimed that the Soviet Union does not dominate Eastern Europe was a huge blunder that may have cost him the election.]That doesn't mean they should have no content. On the contrary. Each must have a clear plan for how they would fix the economy and the major challenges facing America. That's the starting point for credibility - not the end point. The most memorable factors are the body language and tone.
6. Have crisp, clear answers to the questions. Evading questions immediately signals to the voter that he's just another politician who won't answer the question. The public has seen every version of evasion, so they need to address the thrust of every question - without 'litigating the case' as one of the Republican debate consultants advised the other day. This is not a detailed policy debate.
7. Remember you're in the voters' living room. Speak through the camera into the eyes of your voter. You have been invited into their living rooms and are seated at the end of the sofa. Have that conversation with that voter and his or her family about their concerns and aspirations.

Until next time.......