In the first presidential debate, Americans had an opportunity to see the Mitt Romney I know well as a friend and neighbor in New Hampshire. Tonight, in the second debate, I expect Americans will see stark differences between Gov. Romney's and President Barack Obama's vision for our country's future.
Romney will be confident and make another compelling case to all Americans about why he should be elected. He'll speak clearly about everyone's top priority -- jobs -- and because he has created jobs, he can reassure Americans that he knows how to turn around the stagnant economy.
Romney will be strong and assertive, but unlike Vice President Joe Biden's rude and childish debate behavior last week, Romney will be respectful of the president. In these serious times, with the challenges we face, Americans deserve nothing less.
In the first debate, the president seemed overwhelmed with the affairs of our nation. Unfortunately for Obama, that's his record -- and he struggled to defend it. He seemed to hope new questions would be friendlier, but instead they just brought new difficulties. The president can't again scowl in annoyance or appear pensive with his head down. The big question for Tuesday: Will the president's handlers push him to be feisty and combative, as they had probably hoped for from Biden? Or will the record the president must defend leave him again appearing disinterested, unenthusiastic -- even devoid of hope?
Romney should take the opportunity at Hofstra University to continue to establish his bipartisan credentials. His bipartisan results in Massachusetts, an overwhelmingly Democratic state, were critical first-debate strengths. Stressing those abilities, he talked the talk, as all candidates do, but also proved to Americans that he walks the walk -- that he will work with others who disagree with him. Americans yearn for bipartisan problem-solving and effective leadership. Romney must keep demonstrating that he's up to the task.
The pressure tonight is on the president to show he is capable -- he can't again appear tired and almost out of answers. Will Obama overcompensate, like Biden, with aggression and anger when he is challenged about the role of government? Presidential boorishness may be disastrous, but the president is in a pickle: He must defend the terrible arithmetic of his record.
Romney can't relent. He must remind Americans that 23 million of our fellow citizens are out of work, that job growth in September continued to be extremely poor, that poverty levels are dangerously high and that middle-class Americans lost $4,000 of median annual household income over the last four years. Romney must link the president's policies to the higher food, energy and health care costs that are burying middle-class Americans. He must articulate that trillion-dollar deficits are a burden our children can't sustain. And the governor must continue to discuss his solutions: energy independence, better educational and job training opportunities, promoting free trade while cracking down on unfair trade, cutting the deficit, and championing small business -- the backbone of America's economy.
The biggest contrast after two debates is leadership. Romney owns it and needs to press the advantage. President Bill Clinton's argument at the Democratic Convention -- that no president could have fixed the problems in four years -- may be politically clever, but it's also an admission of failure. Romney can make the case that a presidency built on leadership and solutions, not hope and change, will turn our nation around.
If Romney makes that case again Tuesday with confidence, Obama may well appear in the second debate as he did in the first: scowling, head down and looking for the exit.