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Bill Clinton’s Advice for Barack Obama at the Debates
Mitt Romney will no doubt have some solid debate tactics up his sleeve in the coming weeks. Though Obama has a lead in the polls, resting on that could prove detrimental. Here are some key strategies to keep in mind, courtesy of former president Bill Clinton.
Storified by Digital First Media · Mon, Oct 01 2012 12:35:05
Mitt Romney will no doubt have some solid debate tactics up his sleeve in the coming weeks. Though President Obama has a lead in the polls, resting on that could prove detrimental. Here are some key strategies to keep in mind, courtesy of former president Bill Clinton.
1. Empathize with the audience
Obama is running a campaign aimed at winning over voters who have faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But his cool demeanor has sometimes made it hard to connect his policies with his personality. In the third and final debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Obama will need to make that connection.
In 1992, during a town hall debate between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, Clinton responded to a voter’s question about a topic all too familiar to a 2012 audience: the national debt. His answer was succinct and directed at the questioner. And it seemed to jar his opponent — a moment captured well on camera.
Clinton’s Debate Momenttpmtv
2. Give the Facts
Each debater will try to undercut the other’s talking points, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to have some actual facts. In the first debate between Obama and Romney, both condidates will have an unprecedented chance to state their case for how their proposals stack up. Obama is a skilled orator, but his speech-giving skills will mean next to nothing for many voters if not backed up with substantiated facts about his time as president.
When asked in a 1996 debate against Bob Dole about the importance of “keeping one’s word,” Clinton took the opportunity to tick off some essential campaigning points relating to job creation, the national deficit and capital punishment.
1996 Presidential Debate: Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dolecspan
3. Be Ready for Attacks
The format for the presidential debates will be much more structured and civil than the presidential primaries that Romney has participated in before his nomination. But in the grand scheme of things, Romney has much more experience than Obama does when it comes to countering criticisms on the debate floor. When the direct attacks come, though, Obama will need specific counters to Romney’s jabs at his presidential term.
In 1992, Clinton made the debate press office erupt in laughter when he minimized rival Jerry Brown’s attacks on Clinton’s connection to his wife Hillary’s law firm, a connection that would later evolve into the
, one of the most controversial political scandals in the history of American politics.
Bill Clinton Versus Jerry Brown 1992mediaburnarchive
4. Drive the Message Home
In a debate that will touch on dozens of subjects, it’s easy to get lost in the thicket. Obama will need to remember not to miss the forest for the trees and to use his answers as a way of returning to the core message of his campaign and his central critique of Romney’s campaign. It’s not necessary on every single question, but it needs to happen regularly.
After a fumbled response from H.W. Bush in the 1992 town hall debate, Clinton turned a confusing question about the national debt into a sustained criticism of “trickle-down economics.”
Clinton vs. Bush in 1992 Debatesmotus