For what it's worth, here's my guess: Romney will "win" the debate. He will finally give an outline of his economic plan in an "almost finished" version. I'm wildly guessing that Obama will make the first move, touting his own "plan," and challenging Romney to come up with one that doesn't "reward the rich and impoverish the middle class." At which point, Romney will oblige him.
I don't expect any Ronald Reagan moments, and if I'm right, I hope the conservative chatterers don't continue their litany about how he should be more like Reagan. It only gives the Democrats ammunition. Ronald Reagan was unique, and we'll be very fortunate if we see another like him in our lifetimes. Romney is no Reagan, nor should he be. He has all the skills necessary to trounce Obama on the economy (which is the main theme of the first debate), but I suspect he won't inflict a mortal wound. At best, he may get a sense of what is working with the public, and what isn't.
I also predict that Romney will be largely gaffe-free. I just hope that his handlers haven't convinced him that he needs to go overboard trying to appear to be a "regular guy." Al Gore listened to that advice, and he just came off as a sighing, "earth palette" boor. If Obama tries more of his soaring, empty rhetoric, I suspect Romney will refrain from rising to the bait. He knows we need a leader, not a pompous orator, and on that basis, he is just naturally better at being human than Obama.
I just wish that Romney could find a way to mock Obama's speaking style (he probably won't). Chin jutted out, head tilted slightly upward, look to the left, look to the right, but don't make genuine eye-contact with anyone. The last time a national leader did that routine, his name was Benito Mussolini. All that's missing is the arm-folding at the end of the speechifying and the furious affirmative head-shaking.
I am also predicting that Romney will concentrate on the "misery index," though he won't call it that. Right now, the OK stock market numbers and anemic growth in GDP seem to be working in Obama's favor. Romney should (and I think he will) talk about the thing that really matters to an immense number of Americans--the unemployment figures. But he will need to talk about real people who are out of work, trying desperately to find work, and finally giving up when no work is available. That would help with his "caring" image, and at the same time take some of the edge off his 47% misstep.
I suspect that he will also go heavily into what he will do to get big government out of the way of business recovery, allowing small and medium-size businesses to start hiring those real people again. He should avoid statistics as much as possible, as devastating as they are. The average Joe just really doesn't comprehend those statistics, and it tends to make Romney look wooden and wonkish (which is what we actually need, but doesn't win hearts or elections).
He will bring up Obamacare as the biggest boondoggle in American economic history, but how much he will go into repair/repeal is beyond my current gift of prophecy. He will point out the unsustainable rate at which Obama has put us farther and farther into debt and deficit, and with a little luck, will make the message clear that all the talk about this being Bush's fault is just nonsense. Bonus points for him if he mocks Obama's claim that he is only "10% responsible" for the present and future economic malaise and debts.
I won't hazard a guess as to what it will be, but some time during the debate, Obama will tell at least one clear and easily-refuted lie. I hope Romney is prepared to go on the attack, rather than say something like "I disagree with the president on that issue."
Finally, even though the theme is the economy, I do believe that some time during the debate, one of the two is going to bring up the dangers of what is going on in the Middle East. It may be foreign policy, but it is having and will continue to have a serious effect on the American economy. Romney needs to have a Kennedy-like moment of "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty." That would show our support for Israel without actually referring to the specifics or getting into a debate over who likes Benjamin Netanyahu and who doesn't.
I don't expect any huge surprises, and I expect Romney to look intelligent and statesmanlike. I expect Obama to stick largely to his scripted talking points, look like what he thinks a president should look like (after all, he isn't really a president, he just plays one on TV), and stutter if he has to go slightly off-script. It's a tossup as to which accent Obama will use--crypto-Harvard or Possum Holler.
Your predictions? Your thoughts? Your comments?
Note: I will once again be in Bakersfield in the morning and early afternoon, with no computer access. I'm excited to see what you all think, so I will get back online as early as I possibly can.