Top surrogates for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney predicted a more aggressive Obama will show up for the second presidential debate in New York next week, while they disagreed sharply about Vice President Joe Biden’s performance.
“The president just simply needs to hold Mitt Romney accountable for his lack of truth-telling,” former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat and co-chairman of Obama’s campaign, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “If he simply does that, he will emerge in a very strong position.”
Strickland said Biden’s aggressive posture in the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate against Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, gave Democrats “a reason to feel energized” heading into the second Obama-Romney debate Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
Former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu, a top Romney surrogate, said he anticipated “a different Barack Obama” next week, while predicting that a strategy of mimicking Biden’s debate style would backfire. Many Democrats panned Obama’s performance at the first match-up in Denver on Oct. 3, saying the president didn’t challenge Romney forcefully enough.
“They’re probably showing him tapes of Biden’s disgraceful performance and suggesting to him he ought to get wired like that,” Sununu, speaking from Cleveland, told Bloomberg. “If they’re energized by that grotesque display, all the better for it.”
Sununu said Biden acted as though he were “on steroids” and added, “He looked like the Cheshire cat at times and then he looked like the gawker and the stalker.”
Speaking from Danville, Kentucky, the site of the vice presidential debate, Strickland disputed Republicans’ assertion that Biden’s facial expressions were reminiscent of then-Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore’s criticism-drawing sighs during his first debate with Republican George W. Bush in 2000.
“When Mitt Romney interrupted last week, those same people were applauding Mitt Romney’s behavior,” he said. “I think there’s a little bit of a political bias going on with this criticism.”
Strickland, 71, said Biden provided a “mature, insightful, definitive” explanation of the administration’s foreign policy in the debate. He said Biden’s promise that U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan in 2014 was “a high point.”
In contrast, Ryan seemed “inadequate, uninformed,” Strickland said. He said Romney’s criticism of Obama in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was “reprehensible.”
Sununu, meanwhile, said Biden tried to “throw the intelligence community under the bus.”
“The State Department had earlier in the day talked about the fact that -- that they knew almost immediately that this was an organized attack, and for Biden to claim the intelligence was bad, shame on him, shame on Obama,” Sununu said.
At their rematch, “I expect the same Mitt Romney,” Sununu said. “Mitt is pretty consistent.” He said Obama looked “unprepared” during the first meeting.
Strickland predicted Obama will attack Romney as a politician without “a core set of beliefs that he’s willing to stand up for.”
“In that regard, he is a flip-flopper,” Strickland said of Romney. “But he also has allowed himself during this primary season to take on the most extreme positions of the right wing.”
Obama “needs to make sure that Mitt Romney does not get by with shading or distorting or twisting the truth,” Strickland said, citing Romney’s account that he achieved bipartisan success as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
While the Massachusetts health-care plan was enacted when Romney was governor, “it’s no secret that Democrats were going to support him as he was trying to pass a bill that would provide health care to his citizens,” he said. Still, Strickland said, “they don’t like him” in Massachusetts. “When he left office he was very unpopular.”
Romney “is doing is the smart thing” by not pursuing votes in Massachusetts, said Sununu, 73.
“They’re contesting in those states that - that have a significant percentage of Republicans registered and some intelligent Democrats and have a history of - of having independents that - that are very receptive to a conservative message,” he said.
Clinching the State
Both advocates predicted their party’s candidate would clinch their home state.
“I will again stick out my neck and say that Mitt Romney will win New Hampshire by two to three points,” Sununu said.
Strickland said Obama’s prospects in Ohio are strong enough to match his four percentage-point victory over Republican John McCain in the state four years ago. Obama won the state 51-47 percent.
“If the president wins 51 to 47, I’ll be a happy guy and the president will be re-elected to a second term,” Strickland said.