The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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September 30, 2012

Stakes in debate big for Romney, BU expert says

LEWISBURG — If Chris Ellis were moderating Wednesday’s first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, the first question the Bucknell University professor would ask is something the incumbent Democrat has never adequately answered:

Exactly what do you plan to accomplish in your second term as president?

“President Obama’s campaign has made a good case for why he deserves a second term,” said Ellis, an American politics expert, “but unlike four years, ago he hasn’t said a lot about what he would do in these four years, aside from a few politician-speak generalities.”

To Romney, a Republican still stinging after his “47 percent” video recently surfaced, Ellis would first ask: What steps will you take to ensure all Americans are better off under your presidency?

“This hits at the ‘47 percent’ issue to some extent,” Ellis said, and “also asks him to talk about how he will cope with rising inequality and a growing mismatch between skills and available jobs among some types of workers, which is campaign has basically been silent on.”

Wednesday’s debate is more important for Romney at this stage, Ellis said.

Political scientists usually dismiss the idea that gaffes or missteps made by candidates can really decide an election because they usually mean a lot less in retrospect than they do when they are dominating the news cycle.

“But it’s looking pretty clear that ‘47 percent’ comment has hurt Romney in a pretty substantial way,” Ellis said. “At least in the short term. It’s important for him not to just have a good rhetorical debate, but also to humanize himself again — to look like someone voters can trust to care about them.”

It’s important for Romney to be on the stage with Obama, but it’s also a bit dangerous.

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