Ringside with Romney
Five things to watch at the first debate


Robert Costa

Romney’s five-point economic-growth plan will surely be mentioned, as will his plan to cut taxes by 20 percent (which will likely be a target for attack by the president). The debt will also be a key part of his case, if his recent speeches are any indication. At an Ohio rally, Romney blamed the president for the increased deficit and used numbers to make his case. “When he came into office, there was just over $10 trillion in debt. Now there is over $16 trillion in debt,” Romney said. “If he were reelected, I can assure you it will be almost $20 trillion in debt.”

As a graduate of Harvard Business School who relishes any opportunity to explain a complex problem on a whiteboard, Romney is inclined to use numbers to demonstrate why his position is better. On a debate stage with an incumbent president, there will be no whiteboard, but there will be select opportunities for Romney to shame the president by using economic and fiscal data as weapons. Romney’s strength on statistics, his aides say, should come in handy if the president tries to dodge his record.

His father, George Romney; his wife, Ann; and his five sons all may come up on Wednesday. Whereas statistics and policy are two areas where Romney is most comfortable, personal stories have often been hard for him to articulate. Romney’s advisers don’t seem to be pushing him to do a lot with personal anecdotes, but look for Romney to intersperse a few carefully selected stories.

As I mentioned earlier, Romney’s campaign sees the first debate as more than a contest to win on points. They want to introduce Romney to the country. They saw Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention as part one of that project and the three presidential debates as the final chapter. Romney’s wife, Ann, stands the best chance of being mentioned at least once, but don’t count out his father, aides say, since Romney likes to discuss his father, the former head of American Motors, when talking about business and innovation.

Indeed, the most important anecdotes, aides say, may not even be family stories, but memories from his days at Bain Capital. Bain Capital’s rise from an offshoot of a consulting firm to a major power in the private-equity world is something Romney takes prides in, and his advisers hope that the candidate defines those years on his own terms.

Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.


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