Debate Club

Romney's Debate Performance Will Light Fire Under Obama Supporters


A mutual friend told me in 2007 that Barack Obama believed campaigns are more like decathlons than single event contests. In this scenario a candidate doesn't have to win every event, but has to do well enough for their strong performances to carry them over the top. If that is true Barack Obama did fine in his first presidential debate with Mitt Romney, but he didn't win. In the long run Romney's strong performance may be just what Democratic troops need to light a fire under them to volunteer even more for campaign field efforts where the Obama campaign is surely superior.

The president seemed overcoached in his first debate. Maybe the instruction was to stay warm, communicate the facts, and keep from letting any disdain for Romney seep through. If so, that worked, but Barack Obama didn't give the audience enough energy. He let opportunities to challenge Romney slide by. At one point Romney claimed to be unaware of tax advantages for offshoring plants and lamented not knowing about them. "Maybe I need a better accountant," he said. That was a great opportunity for President Obama to talk about Romney's business record offshoring jobs or tax strategies. The president looked at his opponent with a knowing smile as if he knew there was fresh meat on the ground but chose not to pounce.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Despite Mitt Romney lying about his economic plans, the Republican will get a second look from voters this week. Romney was aggressive and he needed to be. Donors who were looking for the exits will probably settle back down. The media loves a horse race, and Romney just excited the Fourth Estate too. Good for him, but maybe good for Democrats too.

As polls got better recently, the whiff of overconfidence began to seep into Democratic groupthink. I plead guilty myself. For Democratic activists who spend a lot of time reading favorable articles about the president and watching TV shows that tend to take his side discounting Mitt Romney was becoming a favorite past time. Romney's awkwardness and mistakes made it easy. But the likelihood of a Democratic blowout is remote. The demographic and ideological math just doesn't support it. Democrats will have to gut out this Election Day with sweat and shoe leather just like the last one and the scare we got last night probably helps more than it hurts.

Jamal Simmons

About Jamal Simmons Principal at The Raben Group

2012 presidential election
Obama, Barack
Romney, Mitt

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