Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

One night will decide Obama's fate

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Fri June 22, 2012
Then-Sen. Barack Obama shakes Sen. John McCain's hand in the first presidential debate of 2008.
Then-Sen. Barack Obama shakes Sen. John McCain's hand in the first presidential debate of 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Fast and Furious scandal won't determine if Obama is re-elected
  • LZ Granderson says the key event will be the first presidential debate on October 3
  • He says Mitt Romney will go after the president with every criticism he can muster
  • Granderson: Obama will be judged on how well he defends his record

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- President Barack Obama will not lose his re-election bid because of Eric Holder.

As sensational as the headlines surrounding the Fast and Furious controversy might be, recent history tells us Holder is only the topic of conversation right now.

Come July, we'll forget all about it much in the way the Keystone Pipeline is hardly mentioned.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Remember, it was just last week that all of the talk was about immigration and the Latino vote.

The week before that, it was same-sex marriages.

Romney attacks Obama but lacks details
Author: Obama better off without father
Bloomberg on President Obama

So Holder -- and the rest of those those sexy subplots -- are really just there to keep us entertained until the main event, the only event that matters leading to the election: the first debate. Everything before that will will likely fade away by November, especially for independents.

It's what happens when Obama and Mitt Romney finally square off on Wednesday, October 3, that will have the greatest influence on those who are undecided. The candidates will debate at the University of Denver, in the first of three planned presidential debates.

But you know the old saying: the first impression is the last impression. So if Obama stumbles in the first, he might as well spend the rest of the fall packing.

Team Romney knows this, which is why what we saw in the Republican primary debates is not what we're going to see in October. Back then, Romney came across flat and on the defensive in the first debate, but this time expect him to come out swinging, questioning nearly every decision the president has ever made -- from cash for clunkers and bailouts to health care reform and the stimulus package.

The presumptive Republican nominee won't have to knock Obama out, but if the night ends with the president appearing to be on the back of his of his heels, the game is over. After all, what could he possibly say in the next two debates or on the campaign trail that would erase an image of him struggling to defend his own record?

Especially against a guy who continues to struggle to be liked, much in the same way a rigid Richard Nixon struggled against the charismatic John F. Kennedy, the wooden Al Gore paled next to the friendly demeanor of George W. Bush and listless John McCain couldn't come close to igniting the crowd like Obama in 2008.

But to complicate things, Obama is defending his record against a man who is not afraid to distort the facts (i.e. lie) to win brownie points. That's not my opinion, that's what the people who currently endorse Romney said.

After a debate in Florida, Newt Gingrich said Romney gave "the most blatantly dishonest performance by a presidential candidate I've ever seen." Earlier, Rick Santorum said he was "stunned that Mitt Romney does not have the ability to discern something that is blatantly false."

On top of that, Obama has to find a way to remind the country where it was before he took office without appearing to be blaming former President Bush because, fair or not, people don't want to hear it. And unlike the backdrop of 2008, Obama doesn't have the luxury of speaking in generic hypotheticals because the country will have specific examples in 2012 to look at.

Nowhere to run.

Nowhere to hide.

And not a teleprompter in sight.

Just Romney, the list of promises Obama made in 2008 and his list of accomplishments heading into the stretch run of 2012.

If he's re-elected, it won't be based on how he handles gaffes or controversies such as Fast and Furious. It will be because he took the GOP's best shot and came out on top on the one night doing so mattered most.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT