By Maria Cardona, Latinovations
Up until the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney was the Frankenstein candidate. I don’t mean that derisively. I use it as a metaphor of what a caricature Mitt Romney had become in the eyes of many voters.
Conservatives didn’t trust him to be true to their principles. Liberals depicted him as a heartless corporate raider. His own advisers didn’t seem to know which Mitt to put before the public for the general election — Severely Conservative Mitt or Moderate Mitt? A little of both perhaps? As a result — he became FrankenMitt.
Luckily for Mitt Romney, his family had enough and, at least according to news reports, they intervened and urged Romney to just be himself. It seemed they advised him to shed all the disparate pieces the campaign had hobbled together to make him the candidate they thought would win the election — a candidate who, as it turned out, lacked a human dimension.
Mitt Romney finally proved he had the capability to be perceived as human and likable. While he certainly obfuscated about his own economic policies that he championed for the last two years (President Obama will bring this up at the next debate to be sure), the perception that he might be a viable alternative to the sitting president did wonders to his image. Substance and truth aside, he was a different man than what America had seen on the campaign trail. He demonstrated he can be comfortable in his own skin. He needs to do that again.
In addition, Romney can continue to add to his momentum if he does four things: 1) Speaks credibly to women and to Latinos, 2) Gives details about the future under a Romney/Ryan administration, 3) Takes care with the format, and 4) Apologizes for the 47% remark.
To women, he needs to say they do not need to fear a Severely Conservative Mitt who would proactively take away their right to choose, and who would put them at a disadvantage on health care issues — an unlikely and difficult task given his conservative base would explode and he has already promised to repeal Obamacare.
To Latinos, he needs to talk about immigration and what he would do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, now that he has said he would not round them up and have them deported (though self-deportation still seems to be an option). And what about the DREAM Act? These issues are likely to come up and are big challenges for the governor, because he faces a daunting lack of support among Latinos that could very well keep him from winning in November.
Romney also needs to fill in many blanks about specific plans for his presidency. My guess is moderator Candy Crowley will press both candidates to be more detailed about what the next four years will look like under their leadership. Romney’s tax plan has been particularly challenged by many independent analysts as have the studies his campaign has cited as supporting his plan.
Romney needs to be careful with the format. The town hall format of the upcoming debate can lead to many unscripted moments. These are not the governor’s forte; in fact they have brought him many moments of heartburn during the campaign. He needs to stay loose, and continue to be himself. Voters do not like and do not trust a candidate who doesn’t know who he is or worse, who is perceived as saying anything in order to get elected. That is why FrankenMitt was not sealing the deal.
My last piece of advice for the governor is this: Voters want to believe in you as a candidate. But more than that, they want to believe that you believe in them. The one comment that has really hurt Romney more than any other in this campaign was when he expressed disdain for 47% of the population.
Unfortunately for the Obama campaign, the president did not take full advantage of that in the first debate. The president will not make that mistake again. Romney has already said the comment was wrong — but he never humbly apologized to the American people for it. He should do so. And mean it. And that will be his biggest challenge of the night.
Giving President Obama advice on what to do in the second debate can be encapsulated in one word, “better.” To do better than in the first debate, almost all he has to do is walk on stage.
President Obama has nowhere to go but up. He has to show up, speak up, cheer up and look up, or he’s going to have to pack up.
President Obama can’t just vote “present.” He needs to actually debate. A debate is a discussion on a topic, in which opposing arguments are put forward.
In the first go-around, Obama never put anything forward. Worse yet, he didn’t refute, challenge or engage. This is the second of three debates, but Obama’s last best chance to turn this around.
We are at a fork in the road in this campaign. Another bad performance and Obama goes downhill and probably on to defeat. Through a good performance, he gets a chance to continue climbing up the mountain.
Obama needs to show he really wants to continue being president and will put heart and soul into fighting for the job. He can’t appear aloof and bored. He should remember there is a split screen that shows him at all times.
He needs to appear patient, interested, assertive and gracious. This next debate is a town hall format. Average Americans ask the questions.
Call the questioners by their name when answering. Make it personal. Be charming.
This article was first published in Latinovations.
Maria Cardona is a seasoned Democratic strategist, public affairs and communications professional with more than 18 years experience in the political, government, public relations, campaign, community and coalition building arenas. She currently is a Principal at the Dewey Square Group (DSG)[Photo by DonkeyHotey]