The first of three presidential debates was held last night in Denver, Colo. with the candidates facing off on domestic issues. Both campaigns have unsurprisingly declared their candidate the winner, although polls and pundits overwhelmingly favor Mitt Romney following the event.
Romney and President Barack Obama were careful to lower expectations before the debate, each acknowledging the other's skills on the debate stage prior to the event. During the debate, Romney and Obama commanded the 90-minute discussion, and did not relinquish much control to moderator Jim Lehrer. The Republican candidate has recently fallen behind in polls both nationally and in key swing states, and was eager for the chance to prove himself on the national stage. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who played Obama during Romney's debate prep, declared the evening a terrific success for the Republican candidate:
He did what he had to do for the undecided voter in Ohio and the country. They were looking for two things: to have a discussion about the record of the last four years and why we can't afford it for the next four … And most importantly, he talked about his own policies.
Villanova's Lara Brown, writing in U.S. News's Debate Club, says the debate will allow Republicans, who until this point were largely rallying against Obama rather than for Romney, to show some enthusiasm for their candidate. She says it could also impact the independent vote:
Independent and undecided voters, displeased with Obama, but uncertain about Romney after the barrage of attack advertisements and media caricatures may now be more open to hearing Republican campaign messages.
Yet despite the fact Romney was able to appear presidential and Obama often appeared distracted and flat, history shows debates rarely make a different in the outcome of an election. Some Democrats have speculated the president's lackluster performance may have been a deliberate tactic by the Obama campaign. U.S. News's Susan Milligan says Obama clearly let Romney walk all over him:
It was so obvious, one has to wonder: Was it part of a deliberate approach by the Obama campaign?
Presidents have to be careful, sometimes, dropping to the same attack level as their challengers. It makes them look as though they are on the same level, instead of one of them being in charge of the country. There's something to be said about looking presidential. And in Obama's case, he has the added complication of not looking angry—being the angry black man in politics is far more loaded than being the angry white guy. And much of Obama's appeal is in his basic likability, not a small thing in an election.
Others, like U.S. News blogger Leslie Marshall, pointed out the debate will serve as an important reality check for Obama and the Democrats, who were getting overly confident in light of strong polling numbers.
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