Immediately after the debate ended, each campaign declared victory. The surrogates for President Obama and Governor Romney paraded past the network and cable cameras and radio mics and began their spin job. And every word was predictable – from both sides.
At this point, some 8 hours after the debate ended, the campaigns are still spinning and the partisan news outlets are leaning (or declaring) the victor to be the candidate they prefer.
There is no doubt that Obama had the most improved performance. But almost anything would have been an improvement over his lackluster performance in the first debate. And a lot of people will judge the “winner” based on improvement over the last debate. But that would not be correct. Romney has turned in two good, steady performances and showed he has a caring and empathetic side that the Obama campaign ads have tried to deny.
The first debate was an anomaly as far as declaring a winner and a loser. Obama turned in a terrible performance and Romney a very good performance.
In the immediate aftermath of the Vice Presidential debate, the left all declared Joe Biden the winner based on not much more than the fact he did what Obama failed to do – engage the opponent. In the immediate aftermath of the VP debate, there was really no clear winner or loser. Both sides debated and both sides engaged.
And when the fact checkers came out and declared much of what Biden said to be fiction and even the White House had to walk back and clarify some statements (and spin the spin) and the strange (creepy?) laughs and smiles from VP Biden had time to sink in, it became clear that Joe Biden did not win. And the polls that began moving towards Romney after the first Presidential debate continued to move right. In particular, the swing states saw movement towards Romney. Pennsylvania is now back in play, once thought to be a safe Obama pickup.
So the winner can’t really be determined until the dust settles. And now that several of the polls have moved from sporadic or periodic to daily tracking mode, we really won’t know for sure until at least the weekend, although some movement may give a hint in the next couple of days, depending on the skew of the polls.
But so far, public opinion has definitely shown Romney benefited most from the first debate and his momentum especially in the swing states was not slowed by the Vice Presidential debate, we can safely declare that the Republicans are 2-0 in the 2012 debates.
One early indicator in both the first presidential debate and the VP debate was the focus groups that pollster Frank Luntz assembled on both occasions. The group overwhelmingly thought Romney won the first debate and a number of them moved to Romney as a result.
The Luntz VP focus group also thought the Republicans won, but not as overwhelmingly as the first debate. And many found Joe Biden’s laughter and interruptions disconcerting.
And the focus group after last night’s debate saw Obama as putting in a much better performance, but the majority saw Romney as the winner and more votes moved towards Romney than Obama.
MSNBC had a similar but smaller focus group and one member claimed to have made her decision to vote for Obama based on last night and one moved to Romney. The rest were still not sure.
Luntz had this as a win for Romney, and MSNBC a draw among undecided voters.
And the key is the undecideds. There are not many left and the winner will need the bulk of them. So declaring the winner in a pretty even debate really comes down to two things. Motivating the already decided voters and the base to actually go out and vote on November 6th and winning over undecided voters.
Romney was (and still is) a lesser known quantity. Obama did better than last time, but his performance in an unscripted debate is always well below the speeches he reads from a teleprompter, which is his greatest talent. Romney was consistent and steady. Both got in points and scored on several issues. Clearly Obama was concerned about losing women and his frequent and sometimes awkward segues to the social issues that concern women showed that concern. And he probably managed to appease his female base with his “shout out” to contraceptives and abortion. But it is hard to believe that Obama said anything that undecided female voters did not already know that would move them to vote Democratic.
Mitt Romney wins every time he stands on the stage beside the sitting president. All he had to do was hold his own and not be overshadowed by Obama. There is no doubt that he accomplished that. To most undecided voters, all they are looking for is assurance that Mitt Romney is up to the task and is not a weaker choice than President Obama. Things are not going that well in this country that voters are not willing to change horses.
And Romney confronted Obama with his record. Several times he enumerated the broken promises and the failures of Barack Obama. And each time Obama did not look presidential as Romney held him to account.
Romney’s line “We don’t have to live like this” was one of the most devastating wake-up calls of the evening.
When the dust settles on this debate undecided voters will find that Romney is qualified, matches up well and is a viable alternative to Obama. Any fears they had due to not knowing much about Romney should be gone and the path to deciding can be based on Obama’s record over the last 4 years and Romney’s goals and ideas to turn things around.
The polls will show the winner in a few days, in this case, Obama needed to make a clear case for a second term. Most Independent voters heard only excuses and blame.
Obama improved his performance here, but failed to deliver a compelling case for 4 more years.
Romney made a clear case for a different course and held Obama accountable for his record.
All things considered, Romney will see his momentum continue, but Obama may have slowed it down, but did not reverse the Romney momentum.
Winner – Mitt Romney.
The final debate next Monday will be the clincher. Mitt Romney will need to hold his own, reach the undecided voters and show he is up to the task.
Obama will need a knock out punch on Monday and he is unlikely to get it.