MONTGOMERY — Domestic policy is the focus of tonight’s presidential debate, but a side-by-side comparison of President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s plans to improve the economy is what elected officials here most want to hear about.
“The No. 1 concern I see is the direction we are going and the economy,” said state Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville. “Someone has to create jobs in this country. I would urge people to watch and decide who can best create jobs.”
State Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said Obama has diverted the economic “train wreck” of the previous administration, but Bedford wants to know what’s next.
“I’m going to be looking for how (Obama) plans to continue the economic growth we’re starting to see in Alabama and around the nation,” Bedford said.
Home and auto sales were up slightly in September, which could be good news for Obama, but The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the overall American economy is still struggling. It grew only 1.3 percent April to June and most economists expect little growth the rest of the year, the AP wrote.
State Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said he wants details from both men.
“To be fair, both of them have not been as specific as I would like,” he said. “The American public wants to hear what their visions are and what their goals are for the next four years.
“(Obama) has a record and he’ll be able to talk about that, but I’d like to hear how he will improve on that record.”
William Stewart, retired professor emeritus in political science at the University of Alabama, said Tuesday that with five weeks to go before Election Day, most voters have made up their minds, but Obama and Romney are now fighting for those remaining undecided.
Meanwhile, a candidate may be perceived as winning a debate, but may not necessarily wind up in the White House.
“I tend to think the most important thing is not to make mistakes that will show you’re not informed or not qualified to be president,” Stewart said.
And sometimes, it is not what the candidates even say that hurt them. George H.W. Bush checked his watch repeatedly during the 1994 debate with Bill Clinton. Al Gore in 2000 sighed and rolled his eyes while debating George W. Bush.
“More important than winning is not making a mistake that the opposition can capitalize on,” Stewart said.
Greer said voters shouldn’t be swayed by well-delivered lines.
“Adolf Hitler was an excellent speaker,” Greer said. “He was an excellent debater. But we need to look at the content of what they’re saying and if they have solutions to solve our nation’s problems.”
Several recent polls show Obama leading Romney in key swing states, but some Democrats are downplaying them.
“Polls are snapshots (of that moment),” Black said. “If I were the president or advising the president, I would tell him to bore full steam ahead and not rely on polls.
“I expect President Obama to handle himself well (tonight), but you should always run as if you are behind and not ahead.”
Meanwhile, at least some Republicans don’t buy the polls numbers.
To win, Romney will have to prove to voters he can make their lives better, Stewart said.
“(Romney has) got to show that, particularly in the area of the economy, that he could provide leadership and that he could do better; that making a change would indeed be better, as far as the American populace is concerned,” he said.