Last night a different President Obama than the one we saw in Denver showed up at Hofstra University. Last night, as the athletes say, he “brought it.” Mr. Romney wasn’t bad. In a debate, particularly in a town hall format, when Mr. Obama is at his best few are better. He has charm, charisma, style, likeability and superior debating skills. These are the very attributes that brought him from virtual obscurity to the Presidency in a few short years in the first place, and he used it masterfully last night. A CNN/ORC poll taken last night indicated that 46% of the respondents felt Mr. Obama won the debate versus 39% for Mr. Romney. But, interestingly, only about half of those same people said that they would change their vote one way or the other as a result of the debate.
The debate was lively and even entertaining with several “in your face” moments. Mr. Romney, to his credit, managed to push back to Mr. Obama without being disrespectful to the Office of the Presidency. Mr. Obama did an infinitely better job than Mr. Biden had of being aggressive without being over the top and disrespectful to his opponent. For the most part, Candy Crowley controlled the proceedings fairly well, however, I think she made two errors. (1) She should not have interjected herself into the Rose garden-terrorist tiff, particularly since in the post-debate analysis a couple of analysts asserted she didn’t have the language quite right herself. As a result, she misled the audience in Mr. Obama’s favor. It was as if for a minute she forgot that her job was to moderate, not interview. (2) She was not able to balance the candidates’ time. Mr. Obama was allowed to speak for three more minutes. I know he tends to give long-winded answers and being the President, people don’t like to interrupt him, but nevertheless….
As usual, both men exaggerated and twisted the facts, and did not fully answer the questions when it suited them. Sophisticated and knowledgable voters should not be fooled. Afterwards, the fact checkers nit picked here and there.
Mr. Obama’s best moments were (1) when he was able to portray Mr. Romney as favoring the rich and (2) successfully dodging a full response to the Libya question. Mr. Romney’s best moment was his response to a question to Mr. Obama that if I’m not better off now than I was four years ago why should I vote for you. He laid out a litany of Mr. Obama’s failures, inactions and broken promises and portrayed Mr. Obama of using rhetoric to obscure them. However, Mr. Romney’s worst moment, and where I believe he lost the debate was on the Libya question. He failed to pin Mr. Obama down on the administration’s record of misleading statements and, even more glaring, broadening the incident to a failure of his Middle Eastern and anti-terrorism policies.
What does it all mean? Well, probably not much in the grand scheme of things. Historically, it has been demonstrated that the results of debates have rarely, if ever, affected the election. Most likely, Mr. Obama did succeed in his main goal of stabilizing his campaign and slowing, if not halting Mr. Romney’s momentum. Mr. Romney needs to do better in the last debate, especially on Libya. Most, likely, however, in an election this close some external event or events will be the deciding factor, and don’t forget, for all the rhetoric the election will be decided by five or six states.