Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Raising the Presidential Debate Stakes

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

This evening’s presidential debate could have significant implications for downballot races across the country — a political dynamic that has Republicans hoping for a repeat performance from GOP nominee Mitt Romney and Democrats guarding against another lackluster showing from President Barack Obama.

With polls tight at the national and state levels, Democrats are attempting to improve both the president’s performance and their post-debate spin in the hope of regaining the upper hand. But for downballot Republicans, the focus will be on Romney and whether his showing at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., will boost them as it did two weeks ago. 

“Up and down the ballot, Republicans are seeing improved numbers both within the base and swing vote,” said a GOP strategist who views reams of polling data at the district, state and national levels. “But the Republican ticket needs Gov. Romney to keep this momentum going into the closing weeks, and this debate is a critical opportunity to keep the field tilted in his favor.”

For Democrats, it’s not just about making sure Obama brings more energy and focus to his debate performance. 

According to Capitol Hill sources, the Obama campaign realized after the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3 that it wasn’t just the president’s poor performance that led to an overwhelming perception that Romney won the debate. In the post-event spin room, where Republicans and Democrats attempt to declare their candidate as the victor in the moments after the debate, GOP surrogates far outnumbered and outperformed Democratic ones — a scenario that left the campaign scrambling.

At that first debate, Obama’s campaign had largely limited its response team to top campaign advisers, while Republicans deployed a more diverse lineup of seasoned lawmakers and rising political stars. The result was that more important people, often elected officials with broad appeal in states across the country, were articulating Romney’s message while advisers from Chicago were trying to counter the GOP narrative.

Republican Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), John Thune (S.D.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) were among the GOP Hill power players in the spin room who got ample air time. Their Democratic counterparts were nearly impossible to find. But for the Long Island town meeting debate tonight, Team Obama has lined up a who’s who of Democratic lawmakers to join the post-debate messaging war. 

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