The PJ Tatler

Christie: Debate to 'Restart' Romney Campaign

Christ Christie was on Meet the Press this morning and had some interesting thoughts about the campaign:

While both Democrats and Republicans have downplayed the importance of the first presidential debate in recent days, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie raised the stakes on Sunday, predicting this week’s duel in Denver will be a game changer for Mitt Romney.

“Wednesday night’s the restart of this campaign,” Christie told David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race is going to change.”

Christie dismissed the recent polls that have President Obama leading Romney in nine battleground states.

“You saw the change in those polls happen very quickly,” Christie said. “And I’m here to tell you this morning, it can happen very quickly back the other way. And I think the beginning of that is Wednesday night when Governor Romney for the first time gets on the same stage with the president of the United States and people can make a direct comparison about them and their visions for the future.

“You’re going to have tens of millions of people for the very first time, David, really tuning in and paying attention to this race,” he continued. “And also, for the first time, you’re going to have them be able to make a direct, side-by-side comparison. Remember, at the end of the day, campaigns are about the candidates. And they’re going to be able to see these two candidates next to each other, debating each other. And Governor Romney I know is going to do a great job on Wednesday night laying out his vision for America’s future and making the contrast between he and the president of the United States.”

Christie also dismissed criticism of Romney from fellow Republicans.

“Folks like us obsess about this stuff,” Christie said. “But I’ve got to tell you something: The general public that I speak to in New Jersey and elsewhere are just beginning to really tune into this race. And so they’re going to start tuning in on Wednesday night, and when they do, Governor Romney’s lay out his vision for a better and greater America, for greater opportunity for all of our citizens. And I think that’s when you’re going to see this race really start to tighten and then move in Governor Romney’s direction.”

Romney might not need a “restart” but he needs to refocus. The negative drumbeat against him is taking a toll — if not on his poll numbers then certainly on the perception that he can win. That’s not entirely his fault, although his campaign has shown itself to be sluggish in responding to Obama’s attacks at times.

This Politico article wonders whether Romney needs a “defining moment”:

But as Romney tries to reignite his campaign following a slew of polling showing him trailing President Barack Obama, some Republican strategists argue that he should stage a dramatic campaign trail moment designed to break through the clutter and move the needle.

GOP strategists point to the campaign equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s 1987 declaration before the Berlin wall, where he challenged the Russian leader: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Suggestions include a Romney appearance at the Keystone XL pipeline to pound his energy strategy, and to do more unscheduled stops in diners or other local haunts like the Florida Obama visit that resulted in the president being lifted off the ground in a bear hug.

“Go to a location where the Keystone pipeline was to be built, and with unemployed workers as part of the event, look into the camera and say, ‘Mr. Obama, build this pipeline,’” said Republican strategist Greg Mueller said. “This hits the jobs issue and directly connects Obama to blocking jobs, preventing economic growth and holding back energy independence.”

There are some advantages to staged, even slightly dull campaign rallies. The campaign doesn’t want to make any mistakes, and Romney — not the most polished candidate on the stump — certainly doesn’t want to put his foot in his mouth, which he has done on more than one occasion. Pulling off gaffe-free events that energize supporters and look good on television is no small feat.

A spontaneous moment like Reagan’s outburst at the GOP debate before the New Hampshire primary in 1980 — “I’m paying for this microphone, Mr. Breen…” — is what is needed not some staged bit of outrage at a Keystone site. Perhaps it will occur in the debate if Romney can goad the thin skinned Obama into going off script. But such a “defining moment” is rarely planned (Hillary breaking into tears talking about how hard it is for women) and would probably look hokey if it was.

With a large majority of voters already having made up their minds, Romney’s challenge is to reach enough of the fence sitters and those whose support for Obama is soft. This is eminently doable with a solid debate performance by the candidate. And it can be done without relying on gimmicks or “defining moments” either.