Debate Club

Barack Obama Won the Debate Because of Incumbent Advantage

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President Barack Obama won the foreign policy debate last night in Boca Raton, Fla. He pressed the advantage of incumbency effectively—he knows precisely what went into every decision made over the last four years because he made them. Only Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta could've stood a chance.

But at the same time, Fox News's Chris Wallace had it right: If you knew nothing about American politics, and you tuned into last night's debate, Wallace said, you would have thought Mitt Romney was the incumbent protecting a lead and President Obama was a desperate challenger trying to score points any way possible.

Romney's primary goal was not so much to win as to pass the commander in chief test. He needed to not allow the president to portray him as a warmonger or international cowboy. He needed to present a sensible, coherent plan to keep America strong and safe, and he did.

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

On the only poll from last night that matters—whether the debate swayed undecided voters—Romney won. CNN's survey said 25 percent were more likely after the debate to vote for Romney, 24 percent for President Obama, and more than half were not moved in either direction.

Romney seemed confident and knowledgeable, and his closing argument—about everything but foreign policy—was strong. He was gracious and above the fray, as presidents must be. He agreed with President Obama on a number of points and even complimented the president's initiatives.

Yet, from the outset, it seemed President Obama thought he had to score a big debate victory. He launched a number of attacks attempting to establish Romney as a flip-flopper based on musty position papers—some even from Romney's 2008 campaign.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Romney responded, correctly in my view, "Attacking me is not an agenda," and kept the focus on Israel and how our weak economy compromises our ability to lead in the world. "Nowhere in the world," he finally said, "is America's influence greater today than it was four years ago."

In the end, the first debate—in Denver—was a game-changer. It put gale-force winds in the sails of the lagging Romney campaign. The other two were even—or close to it—slogs that moved few votes. The long, convivial meeting of the candidates and their families onstage after the event seemed to signal even they were in on the joke.

So, advantage President Obama last night; advantage Romney for the debate season as a whole. Will it matter November 6? It's unclear. But if you live in Ohio, let's just say you'll have a lot of chances to see the president over the next two weeks.

Ford O'Connell

About Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst

Obama, Barack
foreign policy
2012 presidential election
Romney, Mitt

Other Arguments

21 Pts
Obama's Commander-in-Chief Cred Won Him the Debate

Obama – Obama's Commander-in-Chief Cred Won Him the Debate

Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College

18 Pts
Barack Obama Won the Debate by Playing to His Base

Obama – Barack Obama Won the Debate by Playing to His Base

Lara Brown Assistant Professor of Political Science at Villanova University

14 Pts
Obama Called Out the GOP Nominee for His "Romnesia"

Obama – Obama Called Out the GOP Nominee for His "Romnesia"

Brad Bannon President of Bannon Communications Research

-32 Pts
Obama Could Not Defend His Record

Romney – Obama Could Not Defend His Record

Judson Phillips Founder of Tea Party Nation

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