Elspeth Reeve calls this week's debate a "reality show" for the two candidates:
PBS's Jim Lehrer, who'll moderate the first debate, said it will be, in part, about "presidential temperament." And on ABC's This Week Sunday, former adviser for George W. Bush Matthew Dowd warned that "Obama has got to be careful… that he doesn't come across as irritable, impatient, 'Why am I here?'… and performs well from a mannerism standpoint, because if he doesn't," Romney could pull within 1 percentage point of Obama in polls. Former presidential candidate Howard Dean agreed, saying, "The key to a debate… is to turn off the sound, watch the mannerisms. It's not what they say… It is their mannerisms. It's how they come across."
Reeve, with GIF evidence, details several instances from past debates when a candidate's mannerisms and other visual cues (like blinking too much) contributed to a poor debate performance. Nate Cohn adds:
Here's one way to think about it: If SNL can knife the mannerisms of a candidate's debate performance, there's a real chance that he's lost. And after six years of Obama either running for president or holding the office, SNL still doesn't know how to make fun of the guy. While Chuck Todd thinks Obama is a mediocre debater because he doesn’t land flashy blows, that doesn't really matter. What's important is that the president’s subdued and level-headed demeanor likely won't give the media many weird mannerisms or stylistic flaws—like those that plagued the two Bush’s, Gore, McCain, or Nixon—to complain about.