Former President Jimmy Carter has enjoyed a productive post-White House life, but hell never forget the debate that helped to deny him a second term. Ronald Reagan, underestimated by Democrats who thought he would be no match for Carter in a debate, responded to the then-presidents criticism of Reagans stances on Medicare simply by saying, There you go again ... That was Oct. 28, 1980.
Tonight, candidates for governor of North Carolina, Republican Pat McCrory and Democrat Walter Dalton, will face each other at 7 p.m. in Durham, each hoping they arent on the receiving end of a defining line such as Reagans.
A good distance across the country, in Denver, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will be having that same thought. Their first debate in the race for the White House, focused on domestic policy, begins at 9 p.m.
Debates may be belittled by some as not making much difference in the long run of a campaign. But to watch them is close to an obligation for those on all sides who want to make a sound decision on Nov. 6.
Dalton and McCrory have both sanctioned hard-hitting advertising, with Dalton painted as a partner to Gov. Beverly Perdue, who had the misfortune of presiding over profoundly tough economic times with an antagonistic Republican-led General Assembly in her face. McCrory casts Dalton as part of Perdues administration (he is independently elected) and a tax-and-spend Democrat.
Daltons allies have focused attention on the fact that McCrory wont release income tax returns from his work with a law firm, noting that hes not a lawyer. McCrory says hes released all thats required.
Tonight, the two need to get down to policy: What are their specific ideas with regard to lowering North Carolinas high unemployment rate? Would McCrory simply take dictation from a legislative leadership that has done some pretty strange and ideological things? How would Dalton manage to work with the same General Assembly that so tortured Perdue? Where do they stand on support for public education? On workers rights? On health care for the disadvantaged? Should business get more tax breaks, and if so, how will the lost revenue be made up?
Substance. Lets have it from both candidates.
Specifics in Denver
Mitt Romney has some problems in this debate because it focuses on domestic policy, and hes staked himself out as promising to repeal President Obamas health care reform on his first day in office. He seems to have waffled a bit on that, but he hasnt offered many details as to what his replacement plan would be.
In addition, his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has talked about radical changes to entitlement programs valued by many Americans, including Medicare. And what about the economic bailout? Romneys campaign pronounces it a failure, but evidence to the contrary exists in Romneys home state of Michigan, where the auto industry was saved by the presidents policies.
For Romney, this debate is a chance to offer positive ideas on domestic policy. And the president, despite a slow recovery from the recession, can talk up his progress on health care and his support for the beleaguered middle class.
Tonight, Romney may have to make a break from the tea party elements in his party, who dont believe hes much of a conservative anyway. The presidents policies are clearly defined, as they should be. Hes been in office for almost four years. For the challenger, the task is say what he would do if elected and how he would be a leader for all Americans, and not just to repeat the heated criticisms of the incumbent.