My analysis of the Second Obama Vs Romney debate from tonight’s Evening Herald
If winning the first election debate were the sole criteria for getting elected then Walter Mondale and John Kerry would have been President. They were not.
As I pointed out after the first Obama/ Romney encounter, debates have not decided the outcome of past elections. They are influencers but, despite the occasional bounces, the trend before the debates invariably is the trend after them.
Going into the first debate Obama was leading Romney but the margin was closing. Before they met last night most national polls had the race as either marginally favouring Romney or a dead heat.
The next few days will show what impact last night’s debate had. Chances are that the polls in the key marginal States will bounce up and down in the coming week and the original trend of a narrowing gap with Obama ahead will prevail up to polling day.
So, what happened in last night’s debate?
Firstly, there was a real debate and it was fierce. Maybe it was the format, perhaps it the more effective moderator, but unlike the first the public had the chance to compare and contrast the two men, especially when they clashed directly – and they certainly did that.
Secondly, the 2008 Obama showed up. He did not let Romney’s attacks go unchallenged. On questions on energy, equality, taxation and Libya he not only rebutted the attacks he turned them back on him.
Speaking before last night’s encounter one of Romney’s own campaign aides inadvertently hit on what these debates are about. Pre-emptively dismissing Obama’s likely change in debating strategy, he said Obama could change his style and approach, but he cannot change his record. True.
But this is the Romney campaign’s problem. Obama’s record was every bit as bad a month ago when he was ahead. What changed at the first debate was not Obama’s record: it was Obama’s attitude. This election is Obama’s to win or lose.
At the previous debate undecided voters saw a President who appeared indifferent and aloof. For months, in countless pro-Obama TV adverts, they had been warned that Romney wanted to give tax breaks to the rich and cut welfare programs for the poor.
They had even seen Romney dismiss 47% of Americans as “victims” who think “they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
Yet, when the two men faced each other the President had refused to put those charges directly to him. Worse still, Obama came across as being every bit as ineffectual as the pro Romney ads had claimed.
All that changed last night
Obama came prepared for a fight. He showed that knows the golden rule of politics: a vote is worth getting is worth asking for. He made his case for a second forcefully. It was not a flawless performance, but it was passionate.
By contrast, Romney seemed to lose some of his mojo. While he again started out strong, he did waiver and falter as the debate progressed, coming across as tetchy as he argued with the moderator over the rules and time allowed.
But he did something he didn’t do the first time: he made a gaffe, a serious one. His attack on the President over the killing of the American Ambassador and three other officials in Benghazi backfired badly, not only because of its tone but because his misquoting of the President had to be corrected by the moderator.
He made Obama look and sound like a President and made himself look like an ill prepared political opportunist.
Expect to see that clip played and replayed on TV and the internet right up to the final debate on foreign policy next Monday.
In the first debate we saw the enthusiastic challenger and the tired incumbent. In the second we saw the passionate President versus the wealthy businessman.
If that Obama had showed up in Denver, this race might have been over already – maybe it will be if he shows up gain next Monday.