Forget all those political ads. Forget the SuperPACs. Forget the rallies and stump speeches. Forget the talking heads. In the ten weeks leading up to the 2012 Presidential Election, the outcome is likely to be shaped by ten defining moments:
10. Governor Chris Christie’s keynote address to the GOP convention will undoubtedly lay out the case against the Obama Administration. He is likely to generate a great deal of heat and rev up the base. What remains to be seen is whether he will display well-honed prosecutorial chops or come off as a heavy-handed Tony Soprano who turns off undecided voters.
9. Governor Romney’s acceptance speech gives him the opportunity to introduce himself to the American people without the filter of the news media. His challenge is to come off as a likeable father figure, with whom Americans can feel comfortable in their living rooms for the next four years. It is also his chance to articulate an economic agenda that offers some meat, along with the promises.
8. Bill Clinton’s address to the Democratic convention could be pivotal. The former President presided over much happier times, when the economy hummed and deficits were turned into surpluses. He has the credibility to make the case that Republican policies caused the Great Recession and that President Obama’s policies are slowly digging us out of a huge hole. He can ask whether voters want to give the car keys back to the folks who drove us into the ditch.
7. In his acceptance speech, President Obama has a tough act to follow–not Romney or Clinton, but his own speech four years ago and his keynote address in 2004. Expectations will be sky high and anything less than a soaring enunciation of his vision for the next four years will be considered a downer.
6, 5, 4, and 3. The Presidential and V.P. debates are important, not only because they will be watched by millions of voters, but because they will be analyzed, parsed and pushed out onto the Internet and through the media megaphone. The three Presidential debates are high wire acts that can each make or break candidates. It only takes a moment to turn an election–remember President Gerald Ford prematurely freeing Poland from Communism. The President needs to display his knowledge, humor and command of the issues without appearing disdainful, defensive or condescending. Governor Romney has to show command of the issues, a Presidential demeanor and a real feel for the lives of most Americans, without being prickly or overbearing. In the Vice-Presidential match-up, Congressman Ryan will use his command of numbers and plentiful ideas to energize the debate, but his positions may come off as too rigid and radical for mainstream voters. Vice President Biden will undoubtedly carry the attack on Republican Congressional antics, while his handlers hold their collective breath in hopes that he won’t go over the top.
2. October’s numbers will say a lot about how the direction of the economy is perceived. Negative GDP growth would fuel talk of a new “Obama” Recession. Better job figures would give the President ammunition to show that we are getting back on track. It’s a lot like fantasy baseball. Lots of folks will pour over the box scores before picking their team.
1. Inevitably, something no one can anticipate will cast its shadow on the Election. It might be a natural disaster, an international crisis or a blunder caught on tape. Remember the Bin Laden tape? Campaigns are not conducted in a vacuum and events occur that are simply beyond the candidates’ control or the ability of the chattering class to fathom. The thing about the “October Surprise” is that, whenever it occurs, it is always a surprise.