Judy’s Notebook: It Matters

BY Judy Woodruff  October 2, 2012 at 5:00 PM EDT


A man walks through the media center Monday as preparations continue for the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB


Whether or not one candidate or the other scores a “knockout punch” or memorable zinger, or if President Obama commits a gaffe or Governor Romney misspeaks, Wednesday night’s debate between the major party candidates counts. It counts a lot.

After all the months of campaigning, the “Rocky Mountain Showdown” will be the first time voters have a chance to see these men together on the same stage, addressing each other and answering questions from moderator Jim Lehrer aimed at drawing them out on some of the most important issues of our time. Based on what Lehrer and the Commission on Presidential Debates have announced, I’m betting both President Obama and Gov. Romney will have a chance to lay out their ideas about at least a half dozen big questions:

  • how to encourage hiring;
  • how to grow educational opportunities;
  • how to make retirement more secure;
  • how to create a fairer tax system;
  • how to improve and lower the cost of health care;
  • and how to get the federal debt under control.

It also appears they’ll be asked to discuss what the role of government should be in American life – a question at the core of much of the political division in America these days. Whatever they choose to say, it’s a sure thing we’ll learn from their answers.

If they decide to give the same responses they’ve given throughout the campaign, that will tell us one thing – but if they decide to expand, go into more detail, or highlight points we haven’t heard before, that will send a different message. For 90 minutes, they’re on their own — no filter and no safety net.

We will be able to judge the content of their answers, and the way they comport themselves. Do they show respect toward each other? Is there a flash of self-deprecating humor? We’re already familiar, in many ways, with Mr. Obama; but for all the hours he’s been before a television camera as president, we haven’t seen him in an open-ended setting with the man who wants to take his job away from him. The same with Governor Romney: for all the time some of us spent watching him in 19 (!) Republican primary debates last year and this, he hasn’t faced off against the president yet.

I don’t know how entertaining most folks will find this program that begins at 9 PM Eastern Wednesday night – I see that the movie “Supernatural” is to air at the same time on the CW channel. But I do know there’s not a more valuable way for you to spend an hour and a half. Whether or not it changes the dynamic of the race in any way, I expect to be riveted.