Here's my advice to Mitt Romney going into Monday night's final debate: Turn on the charm.
During the last two debates—the Joe Biden-Paul Ryan vice presidential debate and the second Romney-President Barack Obama presidential debate—I was watching not only CNN with undecided voters' dialing in their reactions, but I was also keeping an eye on Twitter, E-mailing with friends, and live-blogging with my colleagues here at U.S. News & World Report. So I had a lot of "incoming."
During both debates, I noticed a fairly clear divide between men and women: When things got ugly, the men cheered on the protagonists and enjoyed the action. But the women had a different reaction. E-mails saying things like "frustrating," "annoyed," and "stop the bickering!" started arriving from my girlfriends. My mother turned off her TV. My sister said the last debate reminded her of the World Wrestling Federation. (She's not a fan of the WWF.) Another used the words "food fight."
Television viewership dropped from the first to the second presidential debate; I talked to a number of people who turned the second one off and went to bed because they didn't want to watch the candidates come to blows.
Of course Romney shouldn't be a doormat Monday night. He still needs to project strength and stick up for himself. But no more interrupting, no more fighting with the moderator, no more flashes of annoyance. Leave all that to Obama. Let the president be irritating and peeved at everyone. Voters are looking for a sensible alternative to Obama and they saw one in the first debate.
Romney should remind voters one last time how civil, bipartisan, and respectful he is. After all, that's what people are hungry for—because they are concerned about the gridlock in Washington and the partisan divide heading into the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. After Biden and Obama's performances lately, they're starting to realize that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for more ugliness in politics.
So two words for Mitt Romney: Charm City.