Matt Towery: Watch for 'Oops Moment' in Tuesday’s Debate

Tuesday, 16 Oct 2012 12:07 AM

By Paul Scicchitano

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Debate expert and pollster Matt Towery believes that either Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama — or both — are likely to suffer what he calls an “oops moment” at Tuesday’s debate that will ultimately decide the outcome of the night.

“If you go through all of these town hall debates over the years, there has always been basically one question, or one moment that has stumped one of the two candidates — I won’t say every time, but most of the time,” recalled Towery, who was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s first debate coach. “You have two candidates in Romney and Obama that are prone to making rather odd comments when they are put on the spot.”

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Towery, who heads the InsiderAdvantage polling firm, doesn’t discount the possibility that both candidates might make a slip of the tongue — or possibly an unintended verbal or physical pratfall.

“If there’s an oops moment and it’s Obama, then the train could be just a runaway,” he predicted. “If it’s an oops moment and it’s Romney, this race goes right back to sort of being an Obama momentum rather than a Romney momentum.”

He predicts that the president will come out swinging with “very crisp answers” to counter his lackluster performance in the first debate. “Also I’m going to be very shocked in rather the first five minutes of the debate if he doesn’t mention the drop in the unemployment rate and some of the other statistics that have been coming out with regard to the economy because that’s what he has going for him and he’s not really highlighted it at all,” said Towery.

Unlike the first presidential debate, Tuesday’s debate will be in the style of a town hall meeting — meaning that the audience will be invited to ask questions along with the moderator.

While this style of presidential debate dates back only to 1992, it has already produced two memorable oops moments over the years — when George H.W. Bush famously looked at his watch and when Al Gore invaded the personal space of George W. Bush.

“It’s very hard to prepare for this type of debate partially because they’re not really debating each other in a sense,” according to Towery, who is a Newsmax contributor.

“They can easily — if they don’t watch themselves — find themselves debating a person in the audience,” noted Towery. “You fall prey to that mistake and it’s really trouble because you’re a guy who’s either the president or the nominee for president suddenly arguing with someone who is allegedly a man of the people or a woman of the people — just a regular John Q. Citizen. You don’t want to do that.”

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As if that isn’t enough to worry about, the candidates must also remember to keep their emotions in check.

“If you get into a real argument everybody in the room becomes uncomfortable,” he said. “This isn’t a debate as much as it is a test as to who can respond the best to the public asking questions. In that sense, it’s a question of who fumbles the ball not as much as who can win in a normal debate style.”

If the debate audience senses hostility and becomes uncomfortable “then the viewer gets uncomfortable. So the level of hostility usually is relatively low, although I’ve seen it go in a different direction, and that’s usually a mistake,” he said.

Looking down at his watch gave the audience the impression that the elder Bush was bored. He reportedly lamented to PBS’ Jim Lehrer, “Was I glad when the damn thing was over?"

Another wildcard in Tuesday’s debate may come from CNN’s Candy Crowley, who has already said that she plans to interject herself in the process as the debate moderator.

“While she’s pretty even handed that could be a wild card in and of itself because she’s a veteran, noted Towery. “She knows politics inside and out — and quite frankly she can ask some very interesting follow-up questions that could potentially turn the debate upside down.”

Assuming that both men emerge unscathed, that just raises the stakes for the third and final encounter.

“If no one has an oops moment well then we’re really going to have quite a debate in that final debate,” added Towery. “That will mean that Romney will not have made a critical mistake and Obama may have acquitted himself more strongly, but it means the final debate will be like a 'Rocky' movie or something. It will be like whoever lands the knockout in that one wins the presidential race.”

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That may be more of a possibility than analysts would have guessed earlier in the campaign.

“Mitt Romney’s numbers have gone substantially higher after the first debate and the relatively strong performance in the vice presidential debate by Paul Ryan,” Towery asserted. “I think that the momentum has shifted and for no other reason than debates.

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