In America, where elections never end even after the voting is done, the first of three presidential debates between incumbent President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney ended 90 minutes after the two political gladiators faced off just feet from each other in Denver Wednesday night.
The media frenzy surrounding the debate, held at the University of Denver in a state the White House won four years ago and where polls show Mitt Romney is behind by a slim three percentage points, is likely the most robust it has ever been since the dawn of such debates in 1960, when then Vice President Richard M. Nixon sat stone-faced and perspiring opposite a cool, tanned and handsome John F. Kennedy.
Romney more fired up and ready to go than Obama
The lesson learned from that historic meeting 52 years ago is that debating in front a TV camera, where millions of unseen eyes watch a candidate’s every move and word in an event that has become a centerpiece of today’s political arena, is not only about what a candidate says, but how the candidate says it and how the candidate looks saying it.
The game of expectations has been in high gear since Mitt Romney won his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention held in Tampa, FLA, at the end of August. A week later, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, without fear or worry any spoiler would muck up their expected coronation, accepted their nominations in Charlotte, NC., a southern state that usually votes for Republicans but which Obama and Biden won by fewer than 15,000 votes a short four years ago that is a dead-heat race this year.
The bad news for Mitt Romney before the debate was that a Gallup polls indicated that a majority of Americans say Barack Obama (57%) will do a better job than Mitt Romney (33%) in the first of three presidential debates. Most of the participants said their pick for president is set, although 15 percent say the debates could change their mind.
The good news for Mitt Romney, after the debate, is that election watchers and political pundits across the board say the former Massachusetts governor won the contest. Republicans are jubilant tonight as their candidate repeated virtually every anti-Obama talking point he makes in his stump speeches. Obama seemed more resigned to endure the debate, some Obama backers said that was his style, subdued and professional, compared to the always glib Romney who was clearly on the hunt for the president.
Mr. Romney spoke four fewer minutes that President Obama, but Mr. Romney dominated the debate, at times badgering moderator Jim Lehrer to allow him to finish a point he was making. But the performance by Romney wasn’t different from the more than 20 debates he had with fellow Republicans during the months of primaries that left him standing.
Follow the debate, word by word, here.
Democrats expressed concern that the president didn’t bring up either Romney running mate Paul Ryan’s budget plans or the comments Romney made to big-buck donors about the so-called “47%” of Americans who are depending on government handouts and would never consider leaving the shadow of the president.
Backers of President Obama said their man “spoke directly to the American people, talked to voters as adults, laid out his plans to deal w/ deficit in a responsible way and create good paying sustainable jobs for middle class.
Jeffrey Lord, writing at the conservative blog The American Spectator, summed up the night’s performance this way: “Commentators looking for ‘the moment’ will be missing the point. The ‘moment’ was Romney’s conduct throughout — this is one extremely knowledgeable man. With a great, smiling, pleasant demeanor. In a word — presidential.”
According to SurveyUSA, “Overall, Romney was better prepared, stayed on message and was even more personable than the president. Obama missed a big chance tonight. While the fact checkers may ultimately side with the president in the end, Romney did a better job. His performance should calm many Republicans who have doubted him in recent weeks.”
In an instant reaction poll by CBS, Romney won the night: Big win for Romney. By 46-22, poll participants gave the night to Romney. Some 56 percent say they have a better opinion of Romney.
Party faithful weigh-in
Republican leaders like Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett praised Mitt Romney’s clarity and command in tonight’s debate performance while President Obama’s offered more of the same. “Mitt Romney hit a home run tonight by painting a clear picture of what voters can expect from his policies. Now let’s set the record straight because President Obama certainly didn’t tonight. He left a lot to be desired and peddled the same broken promises he made four years ago and I think people will see right through them this time.”
Democratic leaders like Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern saw things differently. “Tonight, we heard two very different approaches for our country’s future. President Obama offered specific, concrete plans to restore middle class security for folks all across Ohio, while Mitt Romney resorted to more lies and ‘zingers’ because he knows his history as an outsourcing pioneer is not going to work here in the Buckeye State.”
But now that the first debate is finished, Mr. Romney and his Wisconsin running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, still need to worry about coming from behind because early voting has already started.
Historical information doesn’t bode well for Team Romney-Ryan. Nate Silver, writing at the political blog FiveThirtyEight, said that on average, since 1976, the challenging-party candidate gained one and a half percentage points on the incumbent-party candidate. Silver, the calculating brain behind the New York Times adds, “But no candidate trailing by as much as Mitt Romney heading into the first debate went on to win.” Nonetheless, Mitt Romney can tighten up the race if he scores big against President Obama.”
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