World leaders can sometimes be their own worst enemies. Two weeks ago, President Obama, who was ahead in most polls, turned in a leaden debate performance that helped make Republican opponent Mitt Romney, who morphed from a "severe conservative" into a moderate before his very eyes, look like a viable option.
When the two meet again, tonight at Hofstra University, Obama will have an opportunity to give his disenchanted supporters reason to believe again — or he could make things worse.
"I think the president understands the urgency of a good performance, and Romney knows that if he can match his last debate performance, he has a real chance to turn around the lead that the president has maintained to this point," Michael Fauntroy, a George Mason University political scientist, told BET.com.
In addition to being far more engaged, Obama must remind voters that the Romney they saw on stage in Denver is not the Romney who won the Republican nomination.
"Romney has changed his position on everything and has backpedaled on many issues in an effort to present a softer, more moderate image, and Obama needs to call him to task on that," said Dewey Clayton, a political scientist from the University of Louisville political scientist. "He needs to get off the ropes and do some counter punching."
Fauntroy predicts that the president will do better the second time around, but warned against underestimating Romney.
"I expect him to be better off the draw this time, but to be fair, Romney's not some guy who just fell off the turnip truck," Fauntroy said. "He's been debating all year and running for president for seven years, so I don't think people should be surprised that he would perform well."
In a press release, the Obama campaign said that the president will use the debate to talk about his administration's accomplishments and specific plans to move the nation forward.
"He'll also hold Mitt Romney accountable for dishonestly trying to mislead voters about his positions, which would take us back to the same failed policies that crashed our economy and punished the middle class," the statement said.
According to Fauntroy, most undecided voters will not likely make their decision based on Tuesday's encounter between the two candidates, but the president "cannot afford to stack one bad performance on top of another and expect it to not have an impact."
The debate will be a town hall format with questions provided by undecided voters who were chosen by the Gallup polling company. In the past year, Romney has participated in 23 such events; Obama has participated in one. It will be moderated by CNN host Candy Crowley.
The 90-minute debate will begin at 9 p.m. EDT and will be streamed live on BET.com.
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(Photos from left: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images, Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)