This is an ABC news Yahoo! News life's dream the candidates debate now from New York your ABC's Dan Harris said Amy Walter. -- -- -- about nine hours away now from what genuinely could be a pivotal... See More
This is an ABC news Yahoo! News life's dream the candidates debate now from New York your ABC's Dan Harris said Amy Walter. -- -- -- about nine hours away now from what genuinely could be a pivotal moment in the presidential race the first debate. Between president Barack Obama and his Republican challenger former Massachusetts governor. Mitt Romney we are streaming live on abcnews.com. Yahoo! News the YouTube election and I ABC news mobile apps I am. Very pleased to have a -- me alongside me here Amy Walter are political director here at ABC news one of the finest political minds in the United States of America. And let me -- -- you yes -- meant it let me say let me ask you this. We in the media we love to talk about high stakes drama tonight. That is not hyperbole now it's actually for once we can say it's not hyperbole or as Joseph Biden would say literally this is -- most important night and of the election listen. For the last year voters have gotten a steady diet. Campaign information mostly through ads and most of those have been negative. And their media coverage this is the first time -- voters get a chance to see these candidates and -- and they desperately want to see them. With Al all of those other -- treatments -- and they want to see what they look like. One on one. So after -- months. Carefully scripted convention speech -- stump speech -- 32 attack ads we're gonna see these two men side by side. A lot of answers will be scripted but it's those unscripted unpredictable moments -- can have an impact on the race but let me ask you this. Did -- were looking back in history do debates. Impact the outcome. So there is a lot of contention about this both in. Political science circles -- circles and of course among political reporters like us -- I look back look back at Gallup data going back since about 1960. There is it there is evidence that there about two or three debates where it made a real difference in the final -- 1960 obviously than the very first. Televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy. The the 1980 debate with Reagan and Carter and 2000. George W. Bush went into that debate down eight points. He came out of that debate tied. By the course of the end of those three debates -- they had the race was. George Bush's he was ahead by four points -- tightened up and then there's that little thing about that. Supreme Court. Well yes and and that's that a little around -- So -- -- so we can't have an impact that dynamic the question is whether impacts the ultimate outcome will in the case of 2019601980. You can argue that -- -- one candidate came in behind. Left those ahead and then went on -- so let's talk. Brass tacks in terms of tonight. The conventional wisdom and I'll be curious to -- -- you -- this is that the onus is on Mitt Romney given the fact that while the national polls are tight the battleground state polls show that he has a deficit in particular in Ohio. Which yet he has to win right so what does he have to do tonight let me when the review. My favorite quote. And for many strategists for perhaps ever. This is -- Republican strategist Matt -- who says that Romney. Has to be both -- compassionate and connect with voters and also attacked the president. But to do it in a way that doesn't put off independent voters and -- here's the quote -- has to be quote. Like mr. Rodgers with a knife under his cardigan. I agree wow I think that would scare a lot of kids -- they found out that mr. Rogers pulled out a knife halfway through. But he needs still look and and this is we're gonna hear this from a lot of folks but. -- -- presidential. And again what voters are looking for is moments of authenticity. We talked about this in terms of the the unscripted moments. For these candidates it. Not just answering the question have they look like when they answer the question but are they answering the right question what are they really asking you for. And so when we saw in 1992 for example when the big question was about the deficit. George Bush senior had trouble with that question is he's trying to answer it technically. Bill Clinton answered it in an emotional way the what we now know -- -- -- I feel your pain Bill Clinton. That's going to be. The thing that that I think Mitt Romney has to be because. -- frankly the caricature of him has been painted now by Democrats that he is an unfeeling. Robo. Candidate. Who doesn't care about the middle class. He can't suddenly become the most likable person in the room but he has to prove that he is competent and he understands there. But it is a tough balance because on the one hand -- connect with voters give the emotional answer that -- many people are yearning for. On the other hand he does have to draw sharp contrast a lot of pressure. From Republicans on Mitt Romney -- who. -- you know. And that night under an -- again. If he's wearing Cardigans I I highly doubt that -- during this half hour we're going to be joined by strategists from both campaigns but where to start. We -- -- Republican strategist Kevin Madden from the Romney campaign. Can't -- hear us. I -- -- good to hear from -- Kevin thank you for coming -- we're really appreciate you start with this to -- -- you. We appreciate it again now when we start this this news item that's really been dominating the again in the last. Eighteen hours he is this videotape that has her resurface the president Obama's speaking. In a church. Where he talks about -- believe we have some video of it he talks about. The federal disaster assistance to New Orleans and he says that it was not. As robust. There as it was in New York act after 9/11 or in Florida after hurricane Andrew. Let me put it you bluntly you're got gonna bring this video up tonight at the podium. I don't expect that at all I mean act I think that what's more important in this debate and where the governor. Has supplant the focus his efforts during this debate. Is on the -- eyes on the president's record. It's a record that has point three million people struggling -- -- it's a record that has last unemployment above 8%. And it's a record that where we haven't seen this sort of economic growth that we need to really. Helped move the country in the right direction have people feel. Better about the direction of the the country as a relates -- to their own situation in the economy. So that's going to be the focus and I think that's really where. Many voters want to see this debate take place they wanna -- -- focused on the on the bigger issues. Is it true the governor Romney has memorized and singers that he's been practicing and you and the other -- since August. F. I don't think you get really memorized singers I think as you practice. I think what we tried to do in the debate -- is you know get used to the game day conditions so to speak. Standing at a podium on the -- back in for some of the different issues that we expect to come up. How to crystallize. The differences on policy so that voters that are going to be tuning in and and not want to hear these very sharp contrast between the the the candidates. That's really what the governors in practice I think if you go into a debate. With a lot of prepackaged singers. It doesn't really work to try to force a sort of -- a dynamic that may not exist during the course of the debate. Citing the governor's much more focused on talking directly to the American public about the issues that they care about. And and making -- persuasive argument in that that way. -- -- wanna talk to you about the issue that's going to be raised first and foremost in the debates in the domestic debate it's -- -- be the economy. And -- -- excited that Gallup poll. The latest numbers that came out there you have Mitt Romney back in July ahead by ten points on the issue can be think would be better on the economy. Today it's very narrow it's it's it's four points. So I ask you what happened to choose between July and today did the economy get better they -- on the get better. What happened. Well I think some of that Amy was a little bit of a sugar high that came out of the Democrat national convention. We did see that a lot of -- I think he sought some of the public -- and I think we've seen it and number staples we have some Democrats come home. But I think that ultimately right now that you -- you have sort of classified level support. This campaign has -- really move too much in a lot of these these national polls and a lot of these state polls. But that most of what we're gonna see now is that how is it that you knew -- make -- -- -- they deliver a message to these undecideds. I think that's we're we as -- campaign. See our greatest opportunity because undecided voters right now they've watched this president and and they. -- seen his policies over the last four years and the reason they're undecided as to they haven't been convinced that that that President Obama is what is doing. Is is implemented the right policies to help fix the economy. Now they're still undecided because we still have a challenge before us which is presenting the governor as an alternative presented presenting the governor's arguments about what a future. Under President Obama will look like I'm -- under president Romney will look like for for these voters. And -- I think that's what we're really concentrating on over -- next third 34 days this is asking the fundamental question. Which is are ten people really afford another four years like the last four years. We believe the answer to that is no and we're gonna go I think the press the governor Romney is gonna focus on showing exactly what he would do. Differently the President Obama to turn the economy -- Just talking about you know again on on the economy one place where things seem to be getting a little better is Ohio. One of the big key battleground states. New polling out today showing that. President Obama consistent. You holding up pretty consistent lead in that state -- lead he's held. -- pre convention. So is is the fact that the economy is improving in the state of Ohio making winning that state with your argument about. The economy first and foremost is that making it harder for you to win in a place like -- -- -- -- -- You know as a campaign we feel very good about our chances in Ohio I think a lot of polling that we've seen is still shows it is a race that's it's not a field goal. I think that's where it's been for for a pretty good time. I think in many of these polls we've seen if you average them -- the president still under 50% that's a very troublesome place to be as as an incumbent. And I think -- many of these voters look at Ohio and they see that the government that those -- the work for the job that governor Kasich has done. And what he's done -- it is is implement policies that are very similar to the policies that are being proposed by governor Romney to help bring back the economy. Lowering the tax rate helping make businesses and small businesses more competitive in it in this in. In the in the in the economic environment. Making sure that we have health care reforms that are more patient centric bringing down energy costs and and you look at president. Present Obama's policies and how they would affect Ohio voters. It's entirely at odds with with a lot of Ohio voter self interests that -- higher taxes aren't gonna help. Higher taxes that affects small businesses aren't gonna help. The president's assault on the energy industry and coal which is a vital part of the of the Ohio economy. I think that's gonna make it exceedingly difficult I expect there will be a different it will be a very close race in Ohio. But we think when we when we fully prosecute. These differences between the two candidates that will be a very good position to win that state -- just. Get back to the debate went. When you prepare and I know the room. Preparing your candidate rigorously. In vigorously for weeks now. You do well as -- you memorize these figures although I know you're saying -- men -- have been memorize the -- memorize your lines of attack you strategize every which way you bring in senator Rob Portman to play mr. Obama. It all comes down to time and again -- if you we've seen these defining moments are the unscripted ones the ones you can't plan for. Does that make you as -- strategist. Wake up in the middle of the night with a cold sweat. No I don't I don't yet nicely pretty well except for my my my kids start -- and they get up too early. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Little known fact also Terry Glenn is ultimately -- -- -- I bet it is and if you are our you go into an act like this are you nervous at all. Yellow -- -- look at I think the biggest challenge that we have and we recognize us -- beginning is that. In many ways debates are about performance and look even the president's harshest critics. Have have ceded the fact that this is the greatest political performer any of us have seen. You all have always said that to about how he rises to the moment how he's just you know he's great whether it's -- State of the Union Address. An address to a huge crowd in in in big stadiums that acceptance speeches. And and something like this -- end of the things the president has an enormous advantage because he's had three head to head nationally televised general election debates. Governor Romney hasn't had any so I think if I look at some of the things that we see as as as enormous challenge -- those those those are just some of them. -- but I think when the when I think those those moments that come out of these debates. A lot of them are moments where you've crystallize the arguments. For people in a very important way that helps persuade them or help mobilize them on Election Day. And I think that's one of things that we do hope which we admit that when we crystallize the argument about whether or not you really want to continue. The -- -- for four more years of the last four years. In some way I think that's really gonna help change people's minds and I think you do that in this debate I think for a the governor Romney's focus on doing it by talking about the president's record. The substance and policy differences and the fact that the president is asking for Americans to consider and accept the status quo for the next four years. And -- offer and and governor -- he's offering a new course. So I think that's really where we hope to have. One of these moments so to speak in the debate for those undecided vote. Kevin thank you very much really appreciate your time is a man who doesn't sweat and sleep very well we'll learn a lot about -- or interviewed at again we really appreciate -- death. -- I enjoyed tonight to be with you I appreciate the opportunity -- right back at -- and in the interest of equal time we have been the -- is democratic strategist with president Obama's campaign -- that can you hear us. -- -- -- We appreciated -- joins us from Chicago I don't know if you could hear Kevin. Wrapping up there with a -- -- bit of expectations setting saying that he's going up against this. But what was the exact words I used it right to the -- Amanda -- crazy -- -- race -- -- and yes. So let me let me let you take a swing at at this what are what are your what's your read bottle or -- model in the expectations. Game. Well the fact is governor -- been preparing for this debate since July the the early as preparations we are able to fine. On record we know that needed five mock debates and 48 hours. According to one report this week dedicated eight full days to debate preparations took the entire -- -- the Democratic Convention down. To prepare for the debates and we know that the Romney campaign is looking for -- Reagan like. A breakaway moment tonight we've heard about 1980 from them throughout the entire campaigns will be looking for one of those performances tonight but. While they've telegraphed and Iran is prepared a bunch of singers. Will leave that to the this Saturday Night Live replay. Of the debate for us this is about millions of Americans tuning in for the first time. And many undecided voters. Who want to hear the economic choice in this election that's of the president's going to outline between building the economy from the middle class out. Or the top down like governor -- would like today. Then there's been a lot of talk and a lot of that sand from -- campaign saying that this isn't Mitt Romney. Has to get some specifics. He really has to get -- -- -- in this debate. But the argument can also -- that the president also needs to lay out some specifics as well so. Can you tell us and to tell the viewers out there what they can expect to hear about how this president in the next four years. It's going to be able to specific -- Get the country moving again. Well I think they will hear that from the president tonight they'll hear his plan to restore economic security for the middle class and to create good paying. Sustainable jobs for the middle class is put forward. Specific plants and he'll talk about the path to getting there we were losing eight we were losing. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs over the past decade but more than 500000 manufacturing jobs have been. Created under this administration -- talk about what we need to do to create a million more. We are on track to double our renewable energy production. And we've reduced our dependence on foreign oil -- -- sixteen year low. So we'll talk about what we need to do to cut our foreign oil dependence in half and how we get the cost of college tuition. Under control so I do expect to hear specifics from the president tonight the fact -- Mitt Romney hasn't said. How we pay for that five trillion dollar tax cut for millionaires and billionaires are what it replace Wall Street reform the Affordable Care Act -- When he repeals them and I think you'll see the president press governor Romney to share those details with the American people tonight. Spend one more -- question week we obviously raised -- -- with Kevin is this new tape that surfaced. Late yesterday afternoon about that for President Obama speaking back in 2007. And Kevin Madden just told us he doesn't expect that -- the -- gonna talk about this during the debate do you expect to see Republicans and make something of this weather. Whether or not it's the Romney campaign other Republicans may be turning this into a TV ad or putting an out in some way. Well I think they already had he -- allies of governor Romney treat this as if it was new last night event in. 2007 that was fully covered by the press corps at the time while Senator Obama was running. For president I think this is a transparent. Attempt to try to change the conversation from governor Romney's remarks about 47% of the country saying that they wouldn't take. Personal responsibility for their lives but when you watch the full context of the remarks I don't think there's much that people would disagree -- I even governor Romney called the government's response to Katrina. And embarrassment. And the fact is in this speech the president talks about the loss of hope in inner city urban communities where there isn't. A lot of opportunity. And so were confident when people see the full contacts. Of the remarks in the speech itself. They'll see this for what it is. Thank you think -- will see it more so than just as we saw last night -- What is this is as a one off or is this going to be something that you think it's going to be brought up time and time again. By by other Republicans or other groups well we'll have to see I mean you saw that this was in the road map that the Republicans laid out not too long ago the the rickets plan that didn't get off the ground because I think so many Americans. Were offended by -- in this -- in the sort of thing the American people are looking for the Romney campaign. Thinks it is I think they'll -- and first surprise tonight they're looking for specific plans to restore economic security for the middle class and that's what the president is going to focus on. Ever did -- tonight in the debate in every day through election. And we ask -- this -- -- last YouTube. Does it make you nervous that despite all the strategizing you've no doubt done for weeks now and the prepping that you've been able to do with the president that often the defining moments. They come out of debates are. Entirely unpredictable. And unscripted. Does that give you -- is that make you lose any sleep. Well you know this has been a -- competitive race for the past year and a half we've got a small. That important lead in key states and I think this is going to remain tight right up until. Election Day. And so. Our focus. Is going to be on laying out the road map to restore economic security for the middle class and making clear that governor Romney would go back to the same economic policies. That cause the crisis. In the first place I don't think that the American people judge the debate. On who lands the most punches they know they governor Romney -- Italy attack the president. He's done that for the past year and a half. But it hasn't been sufficient to make its case they're looking for those specific plans. And but he didn't answer the question -- about what even asking the question Melanie of cold sweat so we need to know whether or not -- Atlanta about that fact. But but still -- the one thing going in it is our poll -- -- and we've also seen this in some other polls that have come out this week that. The president goes into this. Debate seen as. Find -- that over gone so do does that worry you at all that. Your candidate is going in by more than two to one margin seen as the guy that everybody expects to win. Well if you. -- the history of challengers. Standing next to incumbent president's -- the first debate five out of six times five out of the last six times the challenger has been viewed. As winning. Did today so we're actually not really concerned about the pundit. Score -- tonight being a challenger onstage next to an incumbent president. Necessarily add stature. Many of the pundits out there said that they didn't think the presence convention speech was effective. But we learned from the polling. In a week after that that it really reached the American people that he laid out those -- restore economic security for the middle class and that they agreed with those plants. And so we'll look past the -- to score cards tonight and look at the deeper impact this is happening about -- -- reaching those undecided voters. Tuning in from the couch and. And an eagle try not to take it personally that you're gonna overlook. The verdict from the -- I'm on my scorecard is very exact wording. Ben thank you very authentic out and yes we'll affect -- -- Or senate to act deeper. Since we're talking 99. Ben thank you very much for joining us we appreciate -- enjoyed tonight. Thanks for having -- okay. We have. One other. What's that when you hear Walter Shapiro's political. Reporter then that -- called the little columnist from Yahoo! News. Thank you very much as we always a pleasure so you heard. Mr. -- levels at and Maddon sent -- expectations. What's your take. My -- is that right now Mitt Romney is -- very difficult position I came back from four days in Ohio. And what really stunned me. Is the number of prominent Republicans. If you talk to them and deep background -- -- say barring a miracle in the debate. Mitt Romney is finished in -- I can't come up in the victory strategy for Mitt Romney without well. So therefore what does Mitt Romney have to do in this debate you can't really adds that's at this it. If Mitt Romney having -- half an hour forty minutes of primetime television. On the Thursday night at the Republican Convention when no interruptions. No questioners no Barack Obama on the stage Clinton -- specificity. That. How would you going to do it in three minutes. Answers were fifteen minute modules tonight with a fellow named Barack Obama -- in his pocket. Isn't isn't the stage say is in the table center for Mitt Romney to stage a -- to mean -- media is poised to write that. They -- comes back story -- are we need to do all it all eyes and the fact that the fact that they're going to be on stage to get different challenges that automatically -- -- stature power I went back and look. That my first big debate -- which was for them for Newsweek for the 1984. -- Reagan Mondale debate. And yes I wrote -- -- headlines after the first debate that Mondale had gained ground if you look presidential. All challengers looked presidential in case you forget Walter Mondale presidential Walter Mondale carried one state in that -- Electric -- won that race and got out so yeah. I don't blurred out but will be -- Your point about Ohio that is really -- fascinating one and there's been a lot of talk now about what what does. The Romney campaign -- -- if they don't win Ohio what is that saying. About where he goes to win the 270 electoral. Well if you spent an awful lot of time. Trying to win back Virginia trying to sweep every other swing state other than Ohio. Or you suddenly decide that even though the rest of the midwest is now safely for Obama with the possible exception Iowa. You think they can all I'm Paul Ryan Wisconsin. But Paul Ryan is only a candidate whose only run -- one congressional district in Wisconsin he has never won. Run state -- I don't think voters in Green Bay, Wisconsin. No Paul Ryan any better than voters in Pueblo Colorado do you think this is a close will gap -- Mitt Romney in Ohio. Anything is plausible an election where Ohio unemployment is over 7%. And national unemployment is under over 8%. But at this moment. I'm not normally -- -- guy. Is it that's going on there now in Ohio that may be different from Florida or Virginia or Colorado now what is. What is that about I think the -- thing is the 47%. Romney comments about the 47%. Of Americans feel entitled to government benefits. -- plays into a larger narrative -- not out of nowhere. It fits into the Bain Capital lands it fits in -- Mitt Romney the rich guy it fits into the guy who if you turn -- I'm Columbus -- means he constantly amendment Cayman island bank in. And the fact is that out -- is he just vote state. It is not a state which has traditionally. -- people who come out of a Nelson Rockefeller background. That this is much more of a lunch but its day and even though it evenly divided. That this does not play well north as the fact that the there's a feeling that the economy getting better in Ohio. And the third factor is that it's based on all the polling I saw an all the Republican operatives I talk. The auto bailout is very popular. In Ohio State was about 850000. Auto related job. What's your view the issue we discuss -- at the top of this live stream about whether debates can or do ultimately impact the final outcome of a presidential race. I think of course they can. It's an hour and a half with fifty million people. Plus people watching anything could happen. And as much as I love political science reason. As much as I love poring over polling data from 1988. We are in the first election. In the air at the -- -- 8% plus unemployment. And a challenger. Who more people viewed negatively than positively. It is a very unprecedented. Combination. Unpopular -- economy and unpopular challenger. Just as quick -- site next time your full form over polling data from 1988 call me that's like a party or that child in the wild there is no party if. -- -- -- -- Well part of this stuff so I mean in 88 just hit me -- -- to you. There are very few nights like this in the life but he. Tried and true political -- how exciting team -- forward for -- an hour and a half of unscripted potential. That is true because we are hoping hope. That's something is -- breakthrough. That's what I think time for the potential I think it's very hard though for the political junkies to watch the special people been on the trail this whole time because. We've been hearing this for the last six months nine months if it's very hard to find something new when there so we look at it -- I wouldn't say cynically but just because we sort of heard a lot of it before as -- posted -- person looking with fresh eyes he says. It so bad about Mitt Romney didn't know that about the president. In Ohio canvassing with an Obama volunteer -- Saturday. I -- and -- meridian American village very village neighborhood Kevin should all. A firefighter. Who voted for Obama in 2008. What is right now very much undecided. Says he isn't sure what he's looking for in the debate but he's going to be watch. Why don't I think that this person is not -- be following. The Twitter feeds is not going to be following the live lives. And that what he is going to drive from the debate might be different from what all three of us -- from the debate or Kevin Madden or bedlam bowl. And oddly enough I think what Kevin's shoulder right from the debate is an awful lot more -- Well put. Thank you -- perspective and we hope you'll be joining us later tonight OK and we hope. You'll be joining us as -- live streaming on with -- whole list -- abcnews.com Yahoo! News YouTube election have. And ABC news mobile apps we're back on. At 8 o'clock for an hour pregame show the debate that goes from 9 eastern till 1030 will be on for an hour postgame well. We will never stop we will never have that we will keep hammering. Until listening to Democrats hope we'll see tonight.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.