The Tug McGraw Principle

5:50 am ET

Everyone knows Wednesday’s debate is a big deal for Mitt Romney, who remains behind in the race. But it is a big deal in part because the Republican and his campaign need to break the corrosive dynamic they have labored under for weeks now.

With the campaign behind, the candidate and his surrogates are forced off message in nearly every media interview and interaction with reporters by versions of the questions “Why are you behind?” “How can you win?” “Why aren’t you connecting with voters?” “Do you need to shake up your staff?” and “Why is there so much staff dissension?”

As important as it is for Romney to close the horserace gap, he needs to convince voters (and the media) that he can win. With even the Family Wire casting doubt on that (AP lead: “Five weeks to Election Day, President Barack Obama is within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term. Republican Mitt Romney’s path to victory is narrowing.”), Boston faces a “you gotta believe” deficit that is dangerous. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll finds registered voters think Obama will prevail on November 6 by a 32 point margin, 63 — 31.

There is much commentary about how Romney will benefit from just standing on the stage next to the President in Denver in terms of stature. That is true. But a strong debate performance, coupled with the semiotics of standing side-by-side with the incumbent, is likely to not only narrow the horserace poll number, but give both Romney’s base voters and some swings (and the press!) the sense that the Republican can actually win this. And that change in attitude would have a ton of secondary positive effects for Romney that would give him an even better shot.

Watch my “Morning Joe” Take on debates below:

Related Topics: ABC News, AP, Barack Obama, Mark Halperin, Mitt Romney, Washington Post, Analysis, Democratic Party, News, Republican Party, The Page, White House

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