NBC News
updated 10/2/2012 11:46:25 AM ET 2012-10-02T15:46:25

Heading into tomorrow night’s first presidential debate, both President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have two big vulnerabilities that his opponent can exploit. And it’s safe to say that whichever candidate better addresses his vulnerabilities will have more success in Wednesday’s debate. For Obama, one of his vulnerabilities is that he hasn’t fully described what a second term would look like.

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Yes, in both his convention speech and his two-minute TV ad, he’s mentioned things like adding a million new manufacturing jobs and hiring 100,000 new math and science teachers. But how does he accomplish those things? Where does something like comprehensive immigration reform fit in? And given the fact there is some hunger for change, what change can the incumbent promise that will seem credible?

Obama’s second vulnerability — which he really didn’t mention in his convention speech — is to explain how his re-election would break the partisan fever in Washington. As he admitted in his recent “60 Minutes” interview, “I'm the first one to confess that the spirit that I brought to Washington, that I wanted to see instituted … I haven't fully accomplished that — haven't even come close in some cases. And you know, if you ask me what's my biggest disappointment is that we haven't changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.”

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For Mitt Romney, a big vulnerability is that he hasn’t differentiated his economic policies from George W. Bush’s. Yes, in interview after interview, he has said he’ll pursue a different path, but out of the five principles in his economic message — 1) take advantage of domestic energy resources, 2) give Americans the job skills they need, 3) forge new trade agreements, 4) balance the budget, and 5) reduce taxes — Bush aggressively acted on ALL OF THEM save balancing the budget. Romney’s other big vulnerability is his lack of specificity: He has yet to say how he’ll pay for his big tax cuts.

In fact, here’s what he said yesterday to a Denver TV affiliate. “What we’re going to do is bring down the rates for everybody, and at the same time we’re going to limit deductions and credits and so forth for people at the high end.” Pressed for specifics, Romney added: “As an option you could say everybody’s going to get up to a $17,000 deduction; and you could use your charitable deduction, your home mortgage deduction, or others… And higher income people might have a lower number. Or you could do it by the same method that Bowles-Simpson did it where you could limit certain deductions, but that’s the sort of thing you do with Congress.”

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Romney says he won’t revoke temporary visas for qualified young illegal immigrants: But Romney did get more specific on one issue: President Obama’s announcement that his administration would no longer deport qualified young illegal immigrants.

After being pressed — for almost four months — on what he’d do about Obama’s action, Romney finally told the Denver Post yesterday he wouldn’t revoke their temporary visas. "The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I'm not going to take something that they've purchased," he said. "Before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I've proposed."

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So, on the one hand, you have Romney saying in recent interviews that he won’t revoke Obama’s executive action on young illegal immigrants, that he’s the “grandfather of Obamacare,” and that he’s empathetic because he was able to get all Massachusetts residents health insurance.

But on the other hand, one of us saw — firsthand — all the conservative red meat he gave at his rally in Denver last night. Solyndra. Card check. Keystone. Even a shout-out to Focus on the Family. Indeed, you can see his stump speeches as his play to the base, while his media interviews are his courting of the middle. Perhaps that’s the correct balance, but the courting of the middle is still only VERY recent.

There are two new national polls that find the presidential race in pretty much the same place among likely voters. CNN has it at Obama 50%, Romney 47%, and Quinnipiac has it Obama 49%, Romney 45%. The number that’s fluid is Romney’s, not Obama’s.

Are we seeing some natural tightening with Romney’s number? The end of Obama’s month-long bounce? But the number to watch has always been Obama’s: If he’s at 49% or 50%, that’s a winning number in this election. There were two bounces in the last month — one for Obama and one for Romney (in the wrong direction). What these national polls show is that Obama’s bounce is holding; Romney’s negative bounce, to Boston’s relief, is disappearing.

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    >>> have tried to direct the public to the other's flaws. debbi wasserman shultz is the dnc chairwoman. we have a little satellite delay. i want to make sure we don't step on each other. let me fully give you this question. are the debate expectations, are we playing a silly game here? doesn't the president need to do well? doesn't governor romney need to do well? the idea that the other will do better, isn't this kind of silly?

    >> i can tell you, chuck, that i agree with governor sununu that this debate can't be about decibels. what it does have to be about, particularly for governor romney , is details. thus far, we have not seen any details. what we have heard during the news reports about governor romney 's debate preparations is he seems to plan to treat the debate stage like a schoolyard playground in practicing zingers. but president obama plans to take the debates seriously. continue the conversation that he had with the american people during his convention speech and talk about the specifics about moving our economy and our country forward. like his plan to increase manufacturing jobs by one million, like his plan to cut oil imports in half in ten years, and his plan to make sure we continue to fight for the middle class and working families .

    >> but all were promises he made in the first term. is it fair to say the president's second term promise is, i'm continuing everything in the first term? does he owe the american public who seems to have some yearning for some change, and we can have a debate about how much change they want but they want something to chapg. they want the tone in washington to change. what does president obama owe them credibly on what change he'll bring in a second term?

    >> well, we have already brought a considerable amount of change. president obama inherited the largest set of problems of any president since fdr. in the last six months of the bush administration , the economy lost 3.5 million jobs and was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs when he took office. and we have had 30 straight months of job growth in the private sector, more than 4.6 million jobs created.

    >> so no change?

    >> no. we have to continue more change. for example, president obama pro proposed the american jobs act. the change we need is republicans to make sure that instead of caring about the one job they focused the laser on, they need to work with the president to help us make even more change. we have made the kind of progress -- we have made some progress, but we need to make more and that's going to require us working together. that's what president obama will talk about tomorrow night. mitt romney -- it's incumbent upon mitt romney to give us details.

    >> what about this issue of changing washington ? it's something the president said is his biggest failure. why should we believe the president's reelection breaks the fever? does he owe the public an explanation for how he will go about trying to depolarize washington ?

    >> well, president obama has repeatedly demonstrated during his four years in office that he's reached across the aisle, tried to work with republicans. he's had some success, particularly when he's gone out on the road and taken his case to the american people . that's how we essentially shame the republicans in congress into extending the payroll tax cut , which would have taken $1,000 out of the paychecks of middle class americans. it's how we prevented the tuition loan interest rate from doubling. this is a combination of making sure that we have people on the other side of the aisle willing to sit down with the president and work together to solve our deficit issues to continue to get our economy turned around and securing the american people 's help to put pressure on the republican members of congress who seem only focused on one job, barack obama 's.

    >> all right. debbi wasserman shultz, chairwoman of the democratic national committee . thanks for being on this morning.

    >> thanks, chuck.


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