It was a very good debate involving two strong candidates. Romney was in top form; Obama wasn’t. He recited his lines, but without fire or passion. It was very much like his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, which was just cheerleading. He had run out of useful things to say. Scoring a debate is not like scoring a tennis match. We have known this since the Kennedy-Nixon debate. The point is, a grimace, a gesture at the wrong time, a bite of the lip, these are things that viewers notice subconsciously. (I think I saw Obama squeeze his eyes shut at one point.) Obama didn’t project as presidential. If you didn’t know which debater was the president and which was the challenger, you would have thought Romney was the president.
This debate is likely to have repercussions in the Senate and House races. Pelosi and Reid must be going crazy today. The biggest surprise, to me, is that after White House strategists said they were going to spend the summer defining Romney so that the race would be over by Labor Day, Obama never even uttered the words “47 percent” or “Bain Capital.”
Meanwhile, Romney’s team was able to soften his hard edges. They positioned him as a compassionate conservative, which is not easy to do, but he carried it off. They saw to it that he was always respectful toward Obama. Perhaps Obama and his handlers went into the debate overconfident–folks who have been reading too many of their own press clippings, all those lofty percentages on FiveThirtyEight that mean nothing when you lose a crucial debate. He didn’t seem well prepared. He repeated himself on issues like education, and he gave a lot of “me-too” answers. Romney is a formidable opponent. He has been coached extremely well. He’s not very good in an extemporaneous setting, but in the debate format, which rewards candidates who speak fluently and can spin the facts, he is a very dangerous adversary. The Obama team should be looking at tape of previous Romney debates. He destroyed the Republican field.
When the debate was over, Al Gore offered an excuse for Obama’s poor performance: altitude. Denver, of course, is known as the “mile-high”city. The cure for altitude sickness is to drink a lot of water before engaging in activities at altitude. Or maybe get some sleep.