Democratic strategists are looking to the example of an iconic Republican, Ronald Reagan, as they anticipate a much improved performance by President Obama Tuesday night in his second debate with GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Romney was widely considered the winner of their first debate nearly two weeks ago.
The Democrats hope that Obama will come roaring back in the second showdown as Reagan did in his second debate against Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984.
In the first presidential debate that year, Reagan seemed rusty and off balance, trailing off in seeming confusion during his closing statement while Mondale remained crisp, clear, and aggressive.
But Reagan scored well in their second encounter when he regained his footing. The high point for Reagan came when he addressed the question, posed by a journalist on the debate panel, of whether he was too old to effectively lead the country. "I will not make age an issue of this campaign," Reagan said. "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Even Mondale got a laugh out of that, and the country seemed reassured that Reagan was still up to the job. He easily defeated Mondale in the general election.
It's not likely that one joke will be all that Obama needs to deliver if he hopes to recover from his lackluster performance in the first debate, in Denver. But Obama advisers say he is taking his debate preparations more seriously this time, and will be "energized" and "passionate" in his next showdown with Romney. That's what many Democrats and swing voters want to see Tuesday night.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.