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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.

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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.

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

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