With more than 50 million people watching and the presidency at stake, the candidates will meet for their first debate on Wednesday at the University of Denver, and both are cramming like college students before an exam. But it is not enough to pore through the voluminous briefing books. Victory may come down to a single exchange, or a single impression, an answer that comes off as too edgy or, conversely, as too long-winded.
Mr. Obama’s team records his practices to sharpen his responses so that they connect on a more visceral level with the television audience. One of Mr. Romney’s aides calculated his words-per-minute rate in the primary campaign debates to break him of the habit of feeling that he needs to rattle off the most statistics.
Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August. His strategy includes luring the president into appearing smug or evasive about his responsibility for the economy.
Mr. Obama is not particularly fluid in sound bites, so his team is aiming for a workmanlike performance like his speech at the Democratic convention. He is looking to show that Mr. Romney would drive the country in an extreme ideological direction at odds with the interests of the middle class.
I call shenanigans. If I don’t get that before my exams, they don’t get that before the debate.